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The long knives are out

by Brian Clarey

It doesn’t seem like all that big a deal: a motion to allow citizens time to speak at the beginning of Greensboro City Council meetings, as has been historically the case, as opposed to the end of the meetings, which can sometimes wind down around midnight. It passed 5-4.

For the record, we stand behind the council vote. Speakers from the floor provide council with a window into their constituency, in theory anyway. True, not every issue brought up before council is of vital urgency, and it has at times looked like the preamble to a professional wrestling bout. Ben Holder, we’re talking to you.

But the right of the people to speak on the record to their elected representatives is at the very essence of our democracy, harkening back as far as colonial days. And for the disenfranchised, who lack the money, influence, leverage or clout to advance their items to the city council agenda, this is often their only shot at making their issues known.

The voice of the people should not be an afterthought, it should be at the heart of everything that happens in council chambers.

But sometimes a motion is not simply a motion. The measure to move speakers to the end of meetings was introduced by new Mayor Bill Knight, who ran on the promise of restoring order to council proceedings. Councilman Jim Kee, newly elected representative of District 2, made the motion to overturn Knight’s decree. The 5-4 vote described an interesting division in the body.

Siding with the mayor were District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade. Last term Rakestraw and Wade were able to advance their No. 1 priority — to oust former City Manager Mitch Johnson.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan, at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, at-large Councilman Danny Thompson, District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee collaborated to overturn the decision.

But it was Thompson’s vote that meant the most, at least to a conservative faction of pundits that includes Rhino Times Editor John Hammer, Guilford County Republican Party Executive Director Tony Wilkins and conservative blogger Dr. Joe Guarino, who brought out the long knives.

Guarino called Thompson’s move against the mayor “particularly disappointing” and both Hammer and Wilkins called it a “face slap.” Wilkins on his Busy Being Born blog, addressed a post to the rookie council member titled “Flip-Flopping Back-Stabbing Political Whore.” It was not complimentary.

This is the first political storm for Thompson, who was endorsed by both the Rhino and Guarino in 2009 and who, as a Republican, benefited from Wilkins’ experience and connections. And it may not blow over anytime soon.

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