The first part of the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5 had a wonderful juxtaposition of items that demonstrated why your taxes are so high.
During speakers from the floor, a young black man went to the podium and said he had started a barber college on Phillips Avenue but wanted the money to buy the building he was renting.
Mayor Robbie Perkins said they would try to find some money for him, and the majority of the council seemed to agree that finding money to give to this young businessman was what the council should be doing.
A few minutes later in the meeting, a middle-aged white guy was up at the podium representing Proctor & Gamble, a company with revenue of over $83 billion last year and profits of over $10 billion. Proctor & Gamble wants to expand its operation out by Bryan Park and was asking for about a million dollars. The City Council voted unanimously to move forward with giving this huge, multinational, multibillion dollar company a million Greensboro tax dollars.
So struggling young minority companies get money and huge majority corporations get money, but what about all of us in the middle.
In 21 years of operation The Rhinoceros Times has never received anything but bills and grief from the City of Greensboro. Seven or eight years ago, when The Rhino Times had to find a new home, it didn't occur to us to go to the city and ask the City of Greensboro to help us buy a new office. This week we hired a new employee, but there is no program to give money to small businesses for hiring new employees, only for huge corporations that don't need the money.
But is there any difference to the economy in 200 small businesses each hiring one new employee or one huge corporation hiring 200 employees?
The average small business owner and homeowner is just expected to pay the various bills and taxes that the city levies and be thankful that the city doesn't charge more. The tax rates in Greensboro are already the highest in the state, and you only have to attend a council meeting or two to see why. The council likes to give money to those who ask, big and small.
Not only does the city not give us anything, the city is constantly making it more difficult to do business in Greensboro and downtown. When the City Council wanted to hop on the bandwagon and try out a new fad, it closed a busy downtown street and a block worth of parking spaces so that food trucks could come downtown and set up in the street. Not only that, the city sent a mid-level administrator down every day to hang out and make sure the food trucks had everything they needed. Plus, the city gave the food trucks free advertising on its website.
The fact that downtown businesses were inconvenienced by the blocked off street and the lack of parking didn't bother this City Council. Nor did the fact that the city was driving business away from restaurants that do pay city taxes to trucks that don't. The city didn't offer free parking, free advertising or the use of their own personal city employee to downtown restaurants, and their business was significantly off while the food trucks were being courted by the city. The food trucks received what is a huge asset downtown, and that is lots of free parking.
By comparison, The Rhino Times needs a parking space in front of our building on Thursday morning about 8 a.m. for less than an hour. It is to facilitate the deliver of bundles of newspapers to our office, and because bundles of newspapers are extremely heavy it's very helpful to get one of the parking spaces in front of the office.
For the last 15 years, when the papers arrive at the loading dock, we have gone out and put orange cones in an open parking space on the street to hold it. The city has now decided that The Rhino Times can't do that. The city says that we have to rent the parking space for the entire day, which we would be glad to do, but the city also says we don't qualify to rent a space. It is classic City of Greensboro helpfulness.
There are two other businesses in our block. One is Lambeth-Osborne Realty; they don't have a problem with us blocking off a space. The other is Stumble Stilskins, which is not open at that hour and has no need of the spaces.
At that hour of the morning people who live in the condominiums on our block are leaving, not arriving. Often there are four or five spaces open in the block, but it is helpful to us to get one of the ones closest to the office. It doesn't hurt any other business and we have been doing it for years.
Suddenly the city changed its policy for the sole purpose of making doing business more difficult for this particular small business.
The retaliation came after we wrote about the fact that the city refused to enforce the parking laws on the Greene Street Club even when their vehicles partially blocked our driveway the city refused to write them parking tickets. The city's response was not to start giving tickets to the cars, vans and trucks illegally parked in front of the Greene Street Club, but to decide to enforce some regulation against us.
I asked why delivery trucks and utility trucks could put out orange cones but we could not and was told that they could and we could not.
Another City Council issue that should disturb people who want to know what is going on in their government is that Mayor Robbie Perkins is shutting down public access to everything he can.
For years the City Council outlawed small group meetings, which are held for the express purpose of evading the North Carolina open meetings law. Three or four councilmembers get together to discuss a topic, and since there is not a quorum present the city contends those meetings can be closed to the press and public.
When Perkins insisted that small group meetings be reinstituted, a deal was struck that the meetings would be open to the media if the media found out about them, but that the city would not be obligated to give notice to the media or public.
Reporters from The Rhino Times and the News & Record have attended any number of small group meetings under this agreement. This week Rhino Times reporter Alex Jakubsen was thrown out of a small group meeting between representatives of Duke Energy, Perkins and Councilmembers Tony Wilkins and Nancy Vaughan.
What makes this even more interesting is that at a similar meeting in December with Duke Energy the media was allowed to attend.
It appears that Perkins thinks he has the votes to close the press and public out of meetings where the actual business of the council takes place, and the press and public will – if Perkins has his way – only be allowed to attend City Council meetings that will then become basically ceremonial.
All the important discussions and decisions will be made behind closed doors, which is the way the council operated for years until Mary Rakestraw, Trudy Wade and Mike Barber, all former county commissioners, were elected to the City Council and got the council policy changed to do the city's business in open meetings, not in back rooms behind locked doors with armed guards standing outside, which is the way it is done now.
Perkins, before he was mayor, cried crocodile tears every time a speaker from the floor was delayed or cut off. Now that he is mayor, Perkins doesn't want to hear from the public. He did not allow the public to speak on the Performing Arts Center presentation. He allowed those who agreed with him, who are in favor of the performing arts center, to speak as long as they wanted. They had no clock. But he refused to allow those who had signed up to speak against it to speak at all on that agenda item. Several chose to speak during speakers from the floor.
And while speakers from the floor, according to the published agenda, receive a maximum of three minutes each to speak, Perkins changed that to two minutes on Tuesday night and then enforced it haphazardly. People like Charles Cherry got cut off at the two-minute mark, but Michael Roberto, who was speaking in defense of Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter, was allowed to drone on and on.
If former Mayor Bill Knight had done something like that when he was in office, Perkins and Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small would have been crying "racist." But it is evidently OK for Perkins to discriminate.