Yvonne Johnson, mayoral candidate
Incumbent or challenger: Incumbent
Campaign website or blog: www.yvonnejohnsonformayor.com
Occupation and employer: Executive director, One Step Further
Previous elective experience: Elected mayor in 2007, has served on city council since 1993, including six years as mayor pro tem
Civic volunteer experience (including service on city commissions and boards): Member, Malachi House board of directors; helped found Summit House and helped bring Delancey Street to Greensboro; first president, Women’s Resource Center; chairwoman of the board of Trustees, Bennett College; Piedmont Triad Partnership; Downtown Greensboro Inc.; Transportation Advisory Committee; liaison, Willow Oaks and Southside; has served on the boards of Foster Friends, Sports Dreams and the Greensboro Arts Council.
Education (highest degree attained and name of institution): Masters in guidance and counseling, NC A&T University
Party registration: Democrat (nonpartisan race)
What is the city and state of your birth?
Paid consultants working on your campaign: None
Your campaign managers: Gabrielle Beard and Jacqueline Kpeglo
Campaign co-chairs: Betty Cone and Pat Callair
Your treasurer: Patsye Drew
Remarks from Oct. 8 candidate forum:
Thanks to the neighborhood congress for assembling this impressive and diverse group. And I thank each of you for your willingness to be engaged in the electoral process that’s so dear and to the strength of our neighborhood and our city. I am seeking another term because I believe that my positive leadership and 16 years of experience is needed in these challenging times. I do have a vision for Greensboro. It is a vision of unity, not division; of progress, not stagnation; and of prosperity and security for our citizens. To accomplish this, we must put people back to work by providing good jobs; provide our citizens with a strong, ethical, effective police department; work to ensure that all voices are heard in our city government; protect our environment and provide green space; and be good stewards of the city’s resources and insist on effective and responsible government. We are all aware that we have faced tremendous challenges – economically and other challenges. We’ve certainly had our challenges on city council and have had several transitions within departments.
Yet, I want to remind all of you of some of the positive accomplishments that we’ve achieved, even with these changing times. I’m proud that I aggressively promoted the bonds that our citizens have approved for more than $150 million for roads, parks, housing and infrastructure that will encourage business and job growth. The council has voted on numerous improvements that support our economy. Whenever we vote on infrastructure or site-ready land for development, or even for the public art or cultural arts, we are supporting incentives. We are supporting development of business. We are voting positively for Greensboro’s economy. I have been there to encourage this growth and to vote yes for Greensboro in 16 annual budgets resulting in millions and millions of dollars in our community. This year I asked that we not activate the bonds until our economy was better. Bonds spur economic development and jobs, and enhance our national reputation. That, in turn, attracts businesses; it attracts tournaments and tourism to our city. I was pleased to make a promotional video for the National Ice Skating Tournament that we are delighted to be hosting in the year 2011. That will bring between $25 and $30 million into Greensboro. The new aquatic center, which we voted to do, will also add to our leisure and our athletic capacities, as well as keep promoting our city as a tournament city.
I asked for the council to vote not to increase taxes in these hard financial times, and it was, I think, unanimously, if I’m not mistaken, approved that we not do that. We cut over $7.5 million from our budget without substantially effecting the services that we provide.
There are several major initiatives that I am very pleased about. The first is the citizens sustainability council, which puts us in a position to receive over $2 million in stimulus money to retrofit and weatherize two low-wealth communities. The International Advisory Council, which has become a part of the human relations commission and the college roundtable. These citizen advisory groups offer creative ideas for exploring environmental issues and social capital issues. I have attempted to educate the council about technological options for handling our city’s waste and will continue to explore economically sound practices. I’ve supported the revitalization of High Point Road, which is one of our major corridors, as well as Lee Street. I’ve been active with the Piedmont Triad Partnership and our regional efforts.
And we must continue to seek out more ways to cooperate with our neighbors and to build upon our mutual interests. In my talks, in my actions, I seek to build upon and create and celebrate and create as much diversity as possible because that’s one of the things that makes this city so beautiful. I’ve spoken to well over 200 groups, conventions, associations, national and international groups that visit and more than 35 schools in our city. And I feel that I am a good ambassador for Greensboro because, you know, I love this city and I love the people who live, work, play and pray here.
I have had numerous conference calls with President Obama’s designees on the stimulus opportunities, including health issues, the environment and economic issues. I have guided the council through some tough times. And although sometimes it was real hairy I believe I have always tried to personally demonstrate civility and professionalism in my actions. Next week, we will have a new city manager that we were happy to offer a position, and I feel he will work with us for more efficient and effective government. We will undoubtedly continued to have problems — who doesn’t? — and we are ready to face those problems because we have great people in this city that care greatly about the quality of life in Greensboro and will be there to guide us and help us. There’s much that we have to be proud of, and much more that we have to look forward to creating in such a wonderful, vital and progressive community. I will appreciate your support and I will appreciate your vote on Nov. 3. Thank you.
How would you suggest avoiding the fractious confrontations that frequently disrupt our city council meetings?
You would think that as adults and as people who are representing people that there would be a level of respect and civility. I think that — I have been talking recently about some rules. And we would have to discuss that as a council and, of course, have a majority of council vote on some rules of conduct. But you can have all the rules of conduct you want. And you can have people speak twice on an issue. You can have people speak for two minutes at the end. But if someone wants to be contentious and nasty, that doesn’t wipe that out. So my suggestion to the people of Greensboro is to select the people that you want to represent you based on knowledge and character and civility.
What is the best thing that’s happened in Greensboro in the last two years?
I agree with Mr. Knight: There are a lot of things that are great that have happened in the last two years. But I think one of the greatest things that has happened — and I think it will have such a positive effect on the economy — is our refocusing from textile manufacturing to biotech, to logistics and to the aerotropolis concept. And I think that, that is going to — it has already created businesses that come here and are interested in coming here. I think it may have spurred the partnership between UNCG and A&T for the school of nanoscience, nanotechnology. And in that first year after that is built the projection is that there will be 30 new businesses created. And probably a hundred-plus jobs. So I think for us not to stay stagnant, in the past, and think about, well how could we get textiles back, though I want the textiles that we have to remain here and to do well here. And you’ve got some things that will help that. I think our refocusing on those areas that we know will attract jobs and businesses, and jobs that pay livable wages has been one of the greatest things in the last two years that we’ve done.
What’s the worst thing to happen to Greensboro in the last two years?
I think the worst thing that’s happened in Greensboro has been all of the stuff that’s happened within the police department. I think we’re beginning to see some light with that. But I really want the new city manager to analyze this, to study this department, to come back and to say to us: "Here’s the things that need to be done. You know, we had a consultant group come and evaluate our department, and it’s not a horrible department; it’s not a terrible department. And there was some recommendations. And we have done many of them that didn’t cost a lot of money. But we were in a financial crunch, and we could not do them all. I think we need to consider whether, what we can do, and in what timeframe. But also think that we need to get the analysis from this manager since that’s going to be one of his top priorities. And then we need to follow through.
I want to ask each candidate about their very broad, vague campaign slogans. For Mr. Knight, what does he mean by "go forward, Greensboro"? And how does he reconcile that with ongoing references to David Wray and other issues that are several years old? For Ms. Johnson, what exactly does she mean by "positive leadership"? Does that mean having a good attitude and trying to make everyone happy or does that mean taking decisive action to accomplish things even if it makes people uncomfortable?
When I talk about positive leadership, I talk about vision, I talk about commitment, I talk about believing that one ought to do their homework, that when one says they’re going to serve the people that’s what they do. And they do it — and it’s nothing wrong with kindness — and they do it with civility, even when you disagree. Even when you’re at odds, you can respect a person’s human dignity. And that is what positive leadership is.
House Bill 2, passed by the General Assembly this summer, will make all restaurants and bars in North Carolina smoke-free on Jan. 2, 2010. Also, starting on that date local governments will have the opportunity to create restrictions on smoking in public places within their areas. Would you support eliminating smoking in workplaces and other places in Greensboro?
I supported no smoking in all of our city buildings several years ago. I don’t have any problem with not having — I know second-hand smoke is bad, and I know a lot of the health [inaudible] that are bad on smoking so, no, I wouldn’t have any problem doing it.
Are there any aspects of the proposed Land Development Ordinance that you particularly support or disagree with?
I particularly like the incentives that will be given for infill. We have so many shopping centers, so many small, little shopping centers that the stores are closed. I was over on Cone Boulevard yesterday evening, and was turning around, and, you know, the big grocery store. And there were just so few businesses in that huge shopping center. So to provide some incentive for people to come in and revitalize and to reenergize and to bring economic development and business into places that are dormant or dead excites me.
What is the solution to lounges, bars, nightclubs and drinking establishments located in or near existing neighborhoods and disturbing the peaceful quality of life that existed beforehand. Grandfathered establishments can only rarely and then with great difficulty be shut down once they are open. What would you propose to do?
Well, we do have the nuisance […], and we have closed some down. I think particularly if there’s a lot of violence or if there’s a history of violence in these people — we have ordered more cameras. I believe that if people know they’re being watched, they’re much more considerate and concerned about what they do. But we have closed places down. Maybe we need to make it easier to do that. And I certainly would entertain that, consider that. Right now, the ordinances for bars and so forth can’t be but so close to residential sections. Those that you’re talking about that are grandfathered in, I think that we really need to look at a more aggressive way if there are consistent complaints to close those places down.
What is the strength of your commitment to conserving older neighborhoods in the northwest quadrant of the city that offer affordable housing?
For all the time that I’ve been an elected official I have supported historic neighborhoods and have also supported affordable housing. I’m still — and it doesn’t matter where it is in the city, whether it’s in northwest, northeast, southwest, it doesn’t matter to me. One of the exciting things about being the council liaison for the Hope VI project that completely changed the face of Morningside Homes to Willow Oaks was the mixture of housing and the different types of housing, though this wasn’t historic. But my point is, you don’t know where someone in public housing lives. You don’t know that. Because somebody is poor doesn’t mean that they’re going to be a criminal. So we need to really not think, or stereotype people. So I am very supportive of mixed neighborhoods that have a diversity of housing stock because that’s working so well that people are still wanting to buy in that area.
What solution do you favor in redeveloping the fringe areas of older neighborhoods where there are currently rental houses in deteriorating condition due primarily to rapidly increasing motor traffic, along with commercial expansion and redevelopment in the area. Do you think that planning new parks and green space in these highly visible yet vulnerable street corridors such as the Lawndale corridor near Cornwallis Drive could turn an eyesore into an asset for the city?
Generally, on the fringe I like mixed use, but that’s not in cement for me. It depends on where it is. And I have to look at all the housing around it. I have to know what the crime statistics are. I remember we had a zoning case, for example, and they wanted to do some apartments. And it was really not far from UNCG. It was one of the highest crime areas. And I voted against it because I thought that density would only add to the problem. So I think you have to take them on a case-by-case basis because some fringes are not like other fringes. And I would take all those facets into consideration in making that decision.
A national publication ranked Greensboro as one of the most vacant cities in the country in terms of commercial vacancies. Does this validate the proposition that we’ve allowed too much development in our city over the last 20 years at the expense of neighborhoods?
When this was reported, I did some homework on it. In the first place, it was based on things that were not factual. Secondly, I just learned that North Carolina has been named as one of the five top states in the country for doing business. Site Selection magazine, Forbes magazine. And several months ago, the Wharton School of Business predicted five cities that would grow and boom in 2020. And Greensboro, North Carolina was one of them. This information that they based this on was erroneous.
Will you support the long-range plan that has been developed for the Lee Street/High Point Road corridor?
I certainly have worked to and supported the High Point corridor and the changes in the High Point corridor. And we will be able to recoup some of the monies that we invested, especially with the hotel. I think that tourism and the number of people that will be coming to the ACC Hall of Champions and the number of people that will be using the aquatic center, both older people for exercise and swimming, young children will be learning to swim, as well as meets — swim meets — that we’ll be able to host in this city, will be a great asset. I also know that the High Point Business Association [SIC] has worked very closely with the police department, and we have supported the police department and that association in making sure that we do all that we can, extra patrols, et cetera, the same as we did on Randleman Road when they were having problems, to improve and to get rid of some of the elements that were a deterrent to business. I definitely support the High Point corridor and the Lee Street corridor, which both are great gateways to this city. Lee Street, with the nano school of technology and the Bicentennial Gardens [SIC] at High Point Road, with all of those things and great businesses, there’s nothing but positive for this community.
What can and should our city do to incentivize the reuse of old buildings construction of new ones that just leave the old ones empty?
Again, the Land Development Ordinance has incentives for those kinds of areas. That is what I spoke to before as one of the things that I really like. Also, we’ve been talking about — we voted to do a small business summit. And one of the things we are interested in doing is offering our existing small businesses that want to enlarge or renovate or hire some more people — give them some tax incentive. We’re working with the county on that. So those are some of the things that I would definitely be supporting.
This question deals with the decision by the interim city manager to reinstate Officer AJ Blake. It’s unprecedented that we have dozens of police officers show up in a council meeting. That should speak volumes. What can we do about city staff colliding in such a destructive way, with the assistant city manager very publicly overriding the action of the chief of police?
We have a process where the city manager, if any department head fires a person, the city manager will review it and make a decision. This was such the case. The chief of police made one decision. And this was appealed to the acting city manager. And the acting city manager made another decision. I think that we don’t often have a big discussion when these kinds of things happen, but the police department and this incident was a major thing in this city. And I think that it’s in the process that we have to look at, not necessarily the administration of the police department [or] this particular case, but the process that we have in place. And is that process a process we want to keep? Do we want to consider another process — a civil review? And that is what some folk are saying we should do. It takes it out from anyone in government. Or should we set very clear guidelines for departments about behavior that if you do it, it’s no appeal; you will be gone. And that is what we try to do when we came, the council did when we came back. We can’t override it. That is like an authority. It’s like the airport authority. And we might have the airport and we might have the coliseum, we might have the redevelopment commission as an authority. And we can’t override it. So we need to look at how we might change the process that will be a clearer, fairer process and give us what the results that we want.
Is there anything else the council should do now to overrule the assistant city manager or should this be the end of it?
Legally, we cannot overrule the city manager on this decision. Legally. And we had our attorney in there ask.
Do you believe our police department at this time is adequately staffed in terms of the number of officers that we have working for us?
We are better staffed than we have been in the past. I remember when Nancy Vaughan was on council and she raised that issue. And what we have done is we have an additional academy. We just graduated 33 police officers, so we have more than the one academy that we were having. We have two, and we are pushing for three. So we are much better staffed. I agree that we really need to have an expert evaluate how we use what we have. So, we’re better.
A question about the Downtown Greenway: Comment on the city’s decision to disrupt a major project for the entire community and remove public art based on a petition signed by 17 people and the antics of a political candidate who did not survive the primary?
There were four beautiful seats — they’re called benches, but they’re seats. Did you know Warnersville is one of the most historic communities in Greensboro? On these seats were written words like "faith" and "hope" and things that symbolize or embody this community. And we have had some complaints about people doing some illegal stuff on the benches. And we put a camera. And I know that the representative from that district went out and sat on several occasions on that bench. Well, they had a meeting. And I called Andy Scott, who is our acting assistant city manager. And he went to the meeting. And the majority of the people at that particular meeting wanted the benches moved. And I asked him: What was his recommendation? His recommendation was that we move them, and have the community come together and decide where they wanted them to be. I know that there were other people who got involved in that who were not city council people. So you could draw your own conclusions from that, but at this point the benches have not been placed. The community will decide where they will be.
How much of a funding priority do you believe the Downtown Greenway should be for the city?
Cities that have greenways have had economic development, and it was directly related to the greenways. I support the greenway. I support the greenway for many reasons environmentally, for economic growth. The $12 million that the voters voted to support is all that the voters will be responsible for. The other of that money will be raised privately for the greenway. In addition to economic development around greenways — several years ago there was a McKinsey Report. And it talked about the good things about Greensboro: We’re great at volunteering, we’re great at a number of things. And it said that we weren’t great at social capital, at building relationships and trust between people who were different. Greensboro has 105 different ethnic groups. Ninety-plus languages spoken in our schools. And this greenway connects many of our neighborhoods, so that as people walk and they bike, they can say hi to Cyndy and hi to Nancy. It really provides an opportunity for much more social capital, as well as economic development.
The closing of the Dell plant illustrates the peril of incentives for big businesses. What would you change in the city to keep us from getting ripped off like Winston-Salem did, and to steer incentives to smaller and mid-sized businesses?
I’ve talked about small and mid-sized businesses. I don’t know what Winston-Salem’s economic development policies are; I know what ours are. And I know that when we make an incentive, it’s not like writing a check and giving it to the company. They have to satisfy all of the conditions before they can have the money, so I don’t know that we should do it [inaudible, coughing].
What is the status of the $10 million bond we passed several years ago for economic development purposes? How is it being used, and do you approve of the manner in which it is being used?
We’ve spent about $5 million of the money. And two of the major projects were near the airport. There’s GTCC’s new campus site, where they’ll be training in the area of aviation and everything that’s related. And there’s an airport project that was a little over $1.5 million. Then we gave a million to the Kisco senior living center, where the old Jefferson-Pilot building was out on High Point Road. And I’m proud to say some money came to northeast Greensboro, with the O’Reilly business and McConnell properties with a business park and cluster — a little over a million dollars. So we have about 4 million, 800-some odd dollars of that. I think we have been wise, and used that very well. And I just want to say that Greensboro’s economic status is very good. We have one of the highest bond ratings of any city in North Carolina. And that’s why we’re able to do the bond work that we’ve done. For years, when the citizens have approved bonds we haven’t had to go back and tax them. We still haven’t.
What would you do, if elected, to ensure that there is more economic development, specifically in east Greensboro?
One of the things that has already begun to come to northeast Greensboro is infrastructure. When we brought the loop — when that loop started — one of the developers bought a big tract of land — I talked to him about it about a week ago — and is planning a major grocery store and retail. When you have the infrastructure and safety — those two things, infrastructure and public safety, people feel secure. [When] people have the roads and water and all of the other infrastructure that they need and the prices are good, you’ll have development. In reference to the request for proposals, which I, I think I was one of the ones who invited anyone to do a request for proposal, because one of the things I think would be great for Greensboro is to really use technology to divert our waste to energy and create jobs. And have been bringing people in, want to hear more about that. I just met this morning with the northeast business folk, and they’re very concerned about the investment that they’ve made in northeast Greensboro. Jack [Zimmerman], you were there. And they’re concerned that if that landfill is opened it will damage what they’ve done. There’s been a lot of development: the Wal-Mart, the — Is it Home Depot or Lowe’s? Well, Home Depot or Lowes. All that shopping center out there and other businesses were very concerned. And so I think we have to have a win-win situation for Greensboro, and that’s what I will work for.
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