June 21, 2012At its regular meeting Tuesday night, June 19 in the council chambers, the Greensboro City Council passed the 2012-2013 budget, delayed the vote on bonds for the downtown performing arts center for six months and hired Denise Turner Roth as the new city manager. But the real fireworks in the meeting came during discussions about garbage.
Councilmember Zack Matheny lost control during a discussion of a contract to dispose of Greensboro's garbage for the next three months. Mayor Robbie Perkins and other councilmembers had shocked looks on their faces during Matheny's outburst, but no action was taken.
It seems garbage issues are destined to plague the Greensboro City Council. The last council got tangled up in a failed attempt to use the White Street Landfill and the present council can't reach a decision on where to ship Greensboro's garbage or even discuss it in a civil manner.
The council was supposed to make a decision and award a three- to five-year waste disposal contract last week, but discovered by reading this newspaper's website, rhinotimes.com, that their longtime consultant, HDR Engineering, had a potential, undisclosed conflict of interest. So the council decided to delay awarding the multi-year contract for 60 to 90 days and sign a temporary contract to dispose of Greensboro's garbage until a new consultant looked at the proposals and made a recommendation.
HDR Engineering had thrown out the low bid because the consultant said he didn't like the subcontractor involved in the hauling. Several councilmembers questioned whether the city was going to start investigating the subcontractors for all the bids that are submitted before the decision was made last week to delay everything.
Tuesday the City Council was discussing the temporary contract when Matheny verbally went after Tim Fadul, a vice president of Waste Connections, the low bidder on both the multi-year contract and the temporary contract. Matheny said, "I've got a question for you, when you met me in my office, did you tell me that you might need a 30 day extension of up to 45 days."
Fadul said, "No sir, I did not."
Matheny said, "Tim, you're telling me, right now, in front of this council, that's not what you told me?"
Fadul said, "I'm telling you that I did not say that and I'm telling you there was also a third person in that room when we were having that conversation. You can ask him the same question."
Matheny was livid and said, "I can't do business with somebody who lies."
The third person in the room was Frank Smith of Waste Connections, and last week Smith said in no uncertain terms that Fadul never said that Waste Connections would need an extra day, much less 30 to 45 days. Smith said he didn't know where Matheny was coming up with that statement.
It would be absurd for Fadul, who was meeting with Matheny in an attempt to convince him that Waste Connections could handle the contract, to say that he could not meet the terms of the contract, which included starting on July 1.
Matheny later in the meeting went after Fadul again, saying at one point, "I don't like to be lied to." And when Fadul stood up to go to the podium to respond to Matheny's accusations, a red-faced Matheny pointed to him and yelled, "Sit down." Matheny is not the mayor and was out of order when he yelled at Fadul. Perkins seemed to be just waiting for Matheny to calm down and didn't say anything.
Matheny repeated that he didn't like being lied to and "had absolutely no faith whatsoever" in Waste Connections.
Councilmember Jim Kee noted that in the course of a conversation things can be misinterpreted.
The Council, on a 6-to-3 vote, awarded the three-month contract to Republic Services and Hilco Transport, even though the city could have saved about $180,000 in three months by awarding the contract to Waste Connections and Hilco and telling Hilco to take the route recommended by Waste Connections. Voting for the three-month contract were Perkins, and Councilmembers Matheny, Nancy Hoffmann, Nancy Vaughan, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Dianne Bellamy-Small. Voting against awarding the contract to Republic and Hilco were Councilmembers Kee, Trudy Wade and Yvonne Johnson.
Matheny then made a motion to reverse last week's decision to hire a consultant to study the proposals and award the three- to five-year contract in about 60 days and instead go ahead and hire Republic and Hilco to continue to dispose of Greensboro's garbage at the Uwharrie landfill as soon as possible.
Normally for the council to reverse its previous action a motion has to be made to reconsider the matter by someone who voted on the prevailing side, and if that passes a motion can be made to take action. City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan said it was a close call but he didn't see the motion as actually reversing the previous action of the council. However, it would have in effect reversed the action.
Matheny's motion failed on a 5-to-4 split with Abuzuaiter, Hoffmann, Kee, Johnson and Wade voting no.
Joining Matheny in voting yes were Perkins, and Bellamy-Small and Vaughan.
The city can save an estimated $2 million a year by having Waste Connections handle its solid waste disposal. Waste Connections will charge the city a tipping fee – the amount charged for disposal in a landfill – of $16 a ton and Republic bid $22.50 per ton.
In the discussion Bellamy-Small made what is a strange statement considering the history of Greensboro's garbage and the fact that we are shipping our garbage 70 miles south to Mt. Gilead. She said, "I'm not in favor of going through anybody's town. It doesn't need big trucks coming down the middle of it or even going through the outskirts of it."
If Bellamy-Small actually doesn't want Greensboro's garbage to go through any towns, then the only alternative is to use the White Street Landfill. The reason Greensboro's garbage does go through towns is because North Carolina is full of small towns and the garbage is being shipped 70 miles south. It has to go through towns no matter what route they take.
The $451 million budget – which the Perkins' council has never cared very much about and has rushed through the meetings that City Manager Roth has forced them to have – passed on an 8-to-1 vote with Wade voting against it. Wade said that she believed with a little work the city, just like Guilford County, could have given residents a tax break. She said, "There is certainly still some fat in this budget. We added some different things. I think we could have found a tax decrease."
Johnson noted that the council did not increase taxes.
Wade said that if the council saves $1.5 or $2 million on solid waste that the council could come back and institute a tax break and Roth said that was possible.
One of the multitude of motions it took to actually finish the budget is about an $8,000 grant to run a day care, which Budget Director Larry Davis described as a pass through from the 1980s.
Perkins got his parking fine amendment through to reduce the fine for parking over the line in the city parking decks from $35 to $15. Perkins said he recently received a $35 ticket and thought it was too much for parking over the line.
Unfortunately Perkins hasn't received a parking ticket out on the street lately because parking at an expired meter was raised from $10 to $15. The council also raised the rates for the parking decks about 10 percent. This City Council is working hard to make downtown Greensboro as undesirable as possible. Raising parking fines and fees does not encourage people to come downtown to work or play. Parking in the parking decks at night has been free for years and it now costs $2.
Other than Perkins with his personal parking agenda, Wade and Bellamy-Small appeared to be the only councilmembers interested in the budget. Wade asked that most of the grant ordinances be explained.
Although the tax rate is flat, water and sewer rates will be raised. The past two years Wade has won her battle to keep water and sewer rates flat and Perkins has lost after speaking in favor of raising the rates each year. This year, with Perkins in the mayor's seat, there was no battle. The vote to increase water and sewer rates, 3 percent for Greensboro residents and 7.5 percent for those who live outside of Greensboro, actually passed on a 9-to-0 vote, and then Wade realized what she had done. Technically Wade should not have been allowed to change her vote but Perkins said he wasn't going to make her vote for the rate increase and the council simply voted again. The increased rates passed 8-to-1 with Wade voting no. In the past a big deal has been made of councilmembers changing their votes, but Perkins does a great job of just keeping the meeting moving along and letting people vote the way they intend.
City employees also get a 1.5 percent merit raise in this budget.
The 2012-2013 budget passed by the Greensboro City Council totals $451 million dollars and the property tax rate remains at 63.25 cents per $100 in property. Just about the only changes the council made to the original budget proposed by Roth was to add in some nonprofits like Triad Stage and the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance for funding and to reduce the parking fine for Perkins.
What the council was really interested in was the Greensboro performing arts center and the much anticipated report from the Greensboro Performing Arts Center Task Force was given before the budget was presented and voted on.
The council was expected to hear the report, talk about how wonderful a performing arts center just like the Durham Performing Arts Center would be and not take any action until a special meeting, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, but has now been canceled.
Vaughan made a motion to postpone any bond referendum until next spring and it passed by a 7-to-2 vote with Wade and Bellamy Small voting no.
The city so far has spent $50,000 plus staff time on the performing arts center, but Perkins said that the city needed to be prepared to write a check for $1 million to cover design fees, options on land and other expenses.
Perkins also said about the task force, "If they are going to continue to work, we are going to have to guarantee that we are going to do something in April or May."
The task force presentation included a portion on private fundraising where the council was told that the task force had commitments of over $15 million, including seven commitments of $1 million or more. It was noted that these commitments were gathered without knowing where the performing arts center would be or what it would look like.
Coliseum Manager Matt Brown clearly favors the site along North Elm Street between Bellemeade and Lindsay streets, but Community Foundation President Walker Sanders noted that was the prime piece of property in downtown Greensboro for development and the city would have to consider its options before making a commitment to give up that piece of land and its potential tax revenue.
As noted by other task force members after the meeting, the Brown plan would also kill a block of downtown with a building surrounded by a parking lot – not very interesting for those who are pushing walkability. A site on Washington Street east of the Carolina Theatre was presented to the council for the first time.
Wade, as usual, gave the real reason for not putting the bonds on the ballot this November, which is that there was increasing realization among councilmembers that a $20 million bond for what is a luxury was not going to pass. Wade said, "We have 250,000 people in Greensboro who might not agree with a bond referendum. When I go to neighborhood meetings and ask how many support the bond, I haven't seen a hand raised yet."
Kee has also been very outspoken in his belief that the people of District 2, which he represents, would not support a bond for a performing arts center when many of them are just trying to pay their bills.
The delay has to be seen as a big defeat for Perkins. He launched the quest for the performing arts center and even had his former campaign manager, Ross Harris, hired on to manage the task force. He has also repeatedly pushed for the bond to be put on the ballot in November, which was the reason for the current schedule. The two previous votes to put a bond on the ballot in November have passed 6 to 3, which was a surprise because they are simply procedural votes and they were expected to pass 8 to 1 with Wade voting no. But both Abuzuaiter and Bellamy-Small also voted against the earlier motions. Kee had always indicated that he didn't see his district supporting a bond for a performing arts center. Matheny has questioned whether spending $60 million on a performing arts center was the best use of that money to create jobs. Johnson has also questioned the wisdom of putting a performing arts center bond on the ballot this fall.
In the end, the votes were not there to put the bond on the ballot, so the spring is an obvious fallback position. But by spring Perkins may have another way to save the world that has to be done immediately.
One aspect of the whole discussion, which Abuzuaiter brought up but unfortunately dropped, was that Perkins didn't allow the public to speak on the item. The City Council has for years allowed the public to speak on any business item on the agenda whether it was a public hearing or not.
Perkins said that since there was a public hearing scheduled for June 26 on the item that he was not going to allow the public to speak. When Bill Knight was mayor, Perkins once convinced Knight that he had to allow two rounds of speakers on the same topic because of a quirk in the way the agenda was handled. If Knight had not allowed speakers on an item because there was a public hearing coming up, his opponents who attended would have spoken for an hour at the end of the meeting about how they were not allowed to speak and it would have been a huge story on TV news about how freedom of speech was taken away from citizens.
As it was, Abuzuaiter challenged it, and with more experience she would have made a motion to hear from speakers, which almost certainly would have passed. Who is going to vote against hearing from the public? But Abuzuaiter is very slow at learning the ropes and doesn't seem to realize that the council is made up of nine equals. It's just that one of the equals has a gavel.
Two weeks ago Perkins refused to allow Erik Robert, a downtown property owner who has big problems with Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI), from answering a question from Bellamy-Small – a departure from the usual practice. But Perkins is a big supporter of DGI and Robert is not.
In this case the task force members, who were all in favor of the performing arts center, were allowed to speak with unlimited time, but Perkins didn't allow those opposed to the performing arts center to speak. In the end the public hearing on June 26 was canceled, so they will not get a chance to speak perhaps until next spring, if ever.
The delay was a loss for Perkins, who earlier in the year had enough Perkinettes to pass anything he wanted. Tuesday night the usual Perkinettes voted all over the place on contentious issues, but it does appear that Perkins picked up a new Perkinette – Matheny voted with Perkins on every issue on the agenda.
The Greensboro City Council held a special meeting beginning at 4 p.m. to discuss the new city manager, and anyone who had any doubts about who the new city manager was going to be should have been able to figure it out when interim City Manager Roth's husband, Chip, holding their son, C.J., walked in the room during the regular council meeting.
After the performing arts center vote at 8:20 p.m., the council took a break and went into closed session to finish the discussion of the new manager. When they came back at 9:04 p.m., Johnson made a motion to hire Roth as the new city manager effective immediately, and the motion passed unanimously. Even former City Manager Rashad Young was not hired on a unanimous vote. The council, which hired a consultant and held a nationwide search, seemed genuinely pleased that they had determined the best candidate was someone right here in Greensboro whom they all enjoyed working with. There have been few complaints about Roth by councilmembers while she has served as interim city manager since December 2011.
Perkins said to Roth, "One of the reasons you are here tonight is because you presented a $449 million budget and only had four speakers at the public hearing, who all spoke in favor of spending more money on the library. You have presented us with a budget that is balanced and fair to our citizens and that is really a compliment to you."
Roth went over to the podium and stood with her husband, holding her son while she thanked the council for the confidence they have shown in her. C.J. clearly thought he was going to get to stay with his mom for the rest of the meeting and was not happy when she had to go back to work.
Roth was hired as an assistant city manager by former City Manager Mitch Johnson in November 2008. She was named interim city manager after Young took a job in Alexandria, Virginia, in December 2011.
Roth is being paid $175,000 a year, which is less than Young, who was being paid $187,000 in 2011. So Roth is starting out saving the city money.
Alex Jakubsen contributed to this story