‘State of Our Community’ luncheon used to shill

by Amy Kingsley

Community leaders from across Guilford County used the seventh annual “State of Our Community” luncheon at Koury Convention Center on Aug. 30 as an opportunity to shill for the upcoming bond referendum.

Speakers representing the school board, county commission and city council took turns at the podium, alternately cheering progress made in the last year and apprising the crowd of challenges in the next year. Alan Duncan, chair of the Guilford County School Board, Mayor Keith Holliday, Carolyn Coleman, chair of the Guilford County Commission, and Lee McAllister of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce provided updates. Much of the substance of the speeches to those captains of commerce seated in the audience concerned economic development initiatives.

After a brief welcome, the ballroom filled with the aromas of 900 dinners delivered in tureens to the attendees. Lunch lasted roughly 30 minutes before the speakers began.

Holliday started his presentation with kudos to the Greensboro City Council for the selection of City Manager Mitchell Johnson. One of Johnson’s most controversial moves came shortly after his appointment, when he locked then-police chief David Wray out of his office in January and then accepted his resignation. Holliday touched on the racial-profiling scandal that rocked the Greensboro Police Department earlier this year, mostly to reassure those present that the city was monitoring the situation.

“While you have not heard many developments lately,” Holliday said, “I want each of you to know that your city council continues to oversee the process to the extent possible and more importantly supports the direction that our city manager has taken with his actions.”

Holliday, who works at First Citizens Bank when not charting the course for our fair city, focused much of his speech on wonkish economic development initiatives such as the extension of sewer and water lines to available lots. He described the 11 bond items – which would fund projects ranging from new fire stations to a swim center – as key quality-of-life boosters likely to draw new investment to the Triad.

“Without a doubt some of these bonds are not considered absolutely essential,” he said. “But I submit that they are the very thing that gives our community a unique identity, that which separates a moderate, dry community from a progressive city with a can-do attitude.”

Alan Duncan, chairman of the Guilford County School Board, announced that lottery proceeds would not be enough to cover the capital expenses of a growing district. He estimated that the population of Guilford County schools grows by almost 2,000 students a year, enough to fill several elementary schools.

Carolyn Coleman did not refer to the bond referendum, which will only be voted on by Greensboro residents. Instead she praised the $2 million in economic incentives the board approved last year, crediting the move with creating $120 million in investment and 542 new jobs. Coleman drew the biggest laugh of the afternoon when she elaborated on a recent move to start web-streaming the county commission’s meetings.

“We have such interesting and lively meetings that we want everyone to be able to enjoy them free of charge,” she said.

Lee McAllister, chairman of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, delivered the last speech of the evening and touched on many of the same issues as Holliday. He noted the progress the city has made since the inaugural State of the Community luncheon in 2000.

“At our first state of the community event in 2000, our economy was fragile,” he said. “Greensboro lacked momentum and our downtown, the lifeblood of our city was at a standstill. At that first event there were 200 people in this room, today there are over 900.”

McAllister mentioned a program initiated by Action Greensboro called “Businesses for Excellence in Education.” That initiative has been responsible for the billboards around town touting achievement in Guilford County Schools.

McAllister encouraged every luncheon attendee to relay support for the bond package to his or her coworkers.

“In November you will have the chance to vote on a $114 million bond referendum that will affect the destiny of our city for years to come,” he said. “The real question is: Do we continue to move forward as a community or do we just settle for what we have today?”

Cities take out bonds to fund capital projects above and beyond those paid for by tax revenues. The city can increase property taxes if necessary to repay the debt. Despite the potential for future tax increases, McAllister also promoted the bond package.

“We need to pull the lever ‘for’ eleven times,” he said.

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