by Keith T. Barber and Jordan Green

Candidate reprises drug stem campaignBen Holder, a candidate for the District 1 seat on Greensboro City Council, pulled out what looked like an oversize pen from a black plastic bag in front of the council at its most recent meeting on July 21. “That’s the new crack pipe kit,” he said. “You still got the same issue. You just disguise it with a pen.… They’re placed both behind the counter. It’s the same game.” The city council passed an ordinance in 2005 prohibiting the sale of “drug stems,” described as “glass vials or tubes which may contain novelty items of insignificant value,” that “facilitate the ingestion and/or inhalation of crack cocaine.” At the time, the tubes typically held a cheap artificial flower. Assistant Chief Anita Holder (no relation) said the Greensboro Police Department had not conducted an investigation at the Spartan BP, adding that the department typically gives storeowners a chance to voluntarily comply before pressing charges. The violation is classified as a misdemeanor, and defendants found guilty by a judge can be fined $100. Determination of whether an object is a drug stem depends on 13 separate factors, including the manner in which it is displayed for sale and the existence of legitimate uses within the community. “If it’s a working ink pen and it happens to have a hollow tube, does it serve a legitimate purpose?” Anita Holder asked. “You can convert a stick pen, you can convert a soda can into drug paraphernalia…. I would be misleading folks to say officers put that ordinance at the very top of their priority at the beginning of their duty day.” — JG
Call for more diversity on Greensboro boards madeThe Greensboro Neighborhood Congress presented a proposal to the Greensboro City Council on July 21 to reform the process of appointing citizens to city boards and commissions. The congress’ recommendations include making boards and commissions more representative by gender, district, ethnicity and profession, conducting an annual analysis of the demographic composition of the citizen boards and requiring that applicants provide relevant personal information. One oft-made criticism of city boards and commissions is that they’re stacked with real estate professionals. District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade suggested that the city consider moving meeting times later in the day that would accommodate more citizens’ schedules, and speculated that “people in real estate and development may have more flexible schedules that allow them to serve on boards.” — JG
Winston-Salem nonprofits, social services rally to help fire victimsThree major apartment fires in the span of 10 days have placed a strain on Winston-Salem and Forsyth County’s network of social service agencies. But the Winston-Salem community has rallied to help the victims of fires at Alder’s Point Assisted Living, Colonial Heights Apartments and Countryside Villas Apartments, said Andy Hagler, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County. Hagler sent out an e-mail on July 23 to colleagues in mental health circles. The response was overwhelming. Within minutes, he sent another e-mail stating the Red Cross’ need for mental health professionals had been met. — KTB
Council green-lights Koury apartment projectThe Greensboro City Council unanimously approved a rezoning request on July 21 that will allow the Koury Corp. to build eight apartment buildings with a total of 192 units on a tract between behind the Park Lane Hotel on High Point Road. The city council vote overturned a unanimous decision by the zoning commission last month, and flew in the face of a recommendation to deny by the planning department. The staff report states, “Staff would provide enthusiastic support for this request, if it were to provide a direct connection with High Point Road and to the mixed uses in that area.” Instead of emptying onto High Point Road, the apartment complex will connect to Vanstory Street. Residents said Vanstory Street is already overloaded with traffic and the scene of many terrible car accidents. “Over the last 10 years, 99 percent of all apartment communities have tried to gate their communities for security and safety reasons,” President Stephen D. Showfety said, “and we are pursuing that same use with this property.” Responding to a question about how to minimize the danger to nearby residents, acting Transportation Director Adam Fischer said, “There is no doubt that Vanstory Street has been a challenge traffic wise over the years, as you’ve heard from the traffic accidents that have occurred there. — JG
Campaign yard sign controversy in W-SJames Taylor, a Winston-Salem City Council candidate from the city’s Southeast Ward, claims that his opponent in the Democratic primary, incumbent Evelyn Terry, snatched one of his campaign signs from the front yard of a home in the 2100 block of Reynolds Park Road. While canvassing the area on July 18, Taylor said he noticed one of his campaign signs was missing from the yard of the Matthews family. Carla Matthews said her husband had spoken to Terry and to Everett Witherspoon, a campaign worker, about removing Taylor’s sign from their yard and had given them permission to take the sign down. Taylor said he confronted Witherspoon afterwards. “I said, ‘I hear you’ve been touching my signs. Please don’t touch my signs,’” Taylor said. “Then he admitted it and said I had been reaping what I had not sown.” Terry denies that she took down one of Taylor’s campaign signs. “That’s a pure lie,” she said. “If Everett took down [Taylor’s] signs, I have no knowledge of him doing so. I don’t condone that kind of behavior.” — KTBCouncil tables decision on group homesGreensboro planning staff have discovered that more than 20 group care homes that are in operation throughout the city do not meet spacing requirements, and many of them have been in violation for years. Group care homes, many of which house disabled people, are required to be separated from each other by a quarter of a mile under the city’s current ordinance. The council decided to table a proposal by the planning department to grandfather the 20 homes that are out of compliance. “I have a real problem with grandfathering them in,” Mayor Yvonne Johnson said. The planning department reported that in all there are more than 200 group care homes in the city, meaning that about 10 percent are in violation. “We know that they are approved legally for residential areas, and we know that there is a need for such facilities,” Pattie Banks, a resident of the Bethany Woods neighborhood in District 1, told council. “However, we are saying that we do not believe it is reasonable or fair or legal that such homes be placed so close to each other in the same neighborhood and in violation of the one-quarter mile distance requirement. Our neighborhood has had a terrifying and horrific previous experience with what we perceived to be a group home.” — JG
Street name of civil rights hero corrected The Greensboro City Council voted 6-3 to officially change the named of Blair-Kahzan Drive in District to Blair-Khazan Drive. At-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw, District 4 Councilman Mike Barber and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade voted against the change. The street honors Jibreel Khazan, one of the four NC A&T University students whose act of civil disobedience at the Woolworth’s drug store in downtown Greensboro in 1960 sparked a wave of sit-ins across the country that led to desegregation of public accommodations. At the time, the student’s name was Ezell Blair Jr., but he later changed it to Jibreel Khazan. Planning Director Dick Hails said the street was originally named Ezell Blair Drive, but was changed to the misspelled Blair-Kahzan Drive at some point. Hails said the street signs have already been corrected, but plates on file with the Guilford County Register of Deeds still reflect the incorrect spelling. Barber asked, “If he changes his name back, are we going to change the street?” To which Mayor Yvonne Johnson replied, “He’s not going to change his name back…. I know him well.” Barber continued: “I want to know why staff already changed the signs without coming to us.” Hails responded that on small streets if staff knows they’ve made a mistake they typically try to correct it. — JG
Greensboro receives federal stimulus funds for road projectsThe city of Greensboro has received $7.1 million in federal stimulus funds appropriated from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for transportation projects. A sum of $4.1 million will go towards construction of medians, curb and guttering and sidewalks on Lake Jeanette Road from Bass Chapel Road to Lawndale Drive, in District 3. A sum of $1.5 million would go towards sidewalk improvements on South Elm-Eugene Street from JJ Drive to Vandalia Street in District 1. And $1.5 million would go towards resurfacing streets across the city, including Holden Road, Cone Boulevard, Friendly Avenue and Smith Street. The Greensboro City Council signed off on the grants on July 21. — JG