December 27, 2012Newly appointed District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins survived his first regular meeting last week without any major mishaps.
Wilkins was not welcomed, recognized or introduced by Mayor Robbie Perkins or any of the other councilmembers at the beginning of the meeting
Wilkins had been appointed by a 5-to-4 vote on Dec. 4, with councilmembers and Perkins claiming that some of his blog posts were inappropriate for a public figure.
Wilkins said he had felt ambushed by the attacks on his character during the selection process, some of which painted him as a racist, but said he hoped the council could move on and serve the citizens of Greensboro.
At the Tuesday, Dec. 18 regular meeting Wilkins said very little and voted in support of every motion. Wilkins said he is still in "listen and learn mode."
Wilkins, who was appointed to replace Trudy Wade, who resigned from the council to serve in the North Carolina Senate, said, "I feel like that guy who replaced Babe Ruth."
Wilkins said, "Although I sat quietly through most of the meeting, I had spent three days asking about the items on the agenda."
He said that Wade had advised him to read the agenda packet and be as prepared as possible.
Wilkins noted that the first vote he cast as a councilmember was for a resolution in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
He said he had mixed feelings about that being his first vote and said the horrific event filled him with sadness and anger.
The resolution extended condolences to those affected by the murders and instructed the city manager to go forward with a "gun turn-in day" and gun safety education.
Wilkins said he was moved by the standing ovation the council received when they voted unanimously to issue a cease-and-desist order to Duke Energy to stop tree cutting and pruning operations in Greensboro. He said he saw a grown man crying in the gallery after that motion passed.
Two of Wilkins' votes, to give the city attorney a raise and to negotiate a lease agreement for the proposed Sebastian Medical Museum, may disappoint some Wade supporters used to a strong fiscal conservative. Councilmember Zack Matheny voted against both.
However, Wilkins said he plans to move forward in a conservative direction. "I think the residents will see me as a conservative and good steward of the taxpayer dollar," said Wilkins.
On the issue of raising City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan's salary from $153,500 to $162,000 a year, Wilkins said he understood the raise to be automatic and conditional upon Shah-Khan's six month performance review being satisfactory.
Wilkins said his limited experience with Shah-Khan had been satisfactory. "He had responded quickly and adequately to all of the questions that I had asked," he said.
He said that Shah-Khan, who had worked for the City of Charlotte, had also agreed to sit in on a meeting of the Greensboro Complex Operational Study Subcommittee of the War Memorial Commission to provide information on how the Charlotte Coliseum operates.
Wilkins said his input was helpful.
Wilkins also voted with the 7-to-2 majority to authorize the Greensboro city manager to enter into negotiations to lease 500 Benbow Road for the Sebastian Medical Museum.
Councilmembers Matheny and Dianne Bellamy-Small both voted against that motion, saying they lacked confidence in the organization's finances.
Wilkins pointed out that although he had voted for the motion, he had not committed any money to the museum. "No money will change hands until it is approved by the City Council," he said.
In fact, that item was one of the only items on the agenda that prompted Wilkins to speak. He confirmed with City Manager Denise Turner Roth that the motion only gave her the authority to negotiate, but not to commit any money.
Going forward, Wilkins said he plans to be conservative in his approach to city spending and put an emphasis on public safety. He also said he had received calls about improving High Point Road and plans to pursue it.
To help keep a finger on the pulse of District 5, Wilkins said he has begun setting up a community network by selecting a representative from each of the district's precincts to talk to informally about issues.
The first person he selected for the network was one of his opponents for the District 5 council seat – McArthur Davis.
Wilkins said he made the selection the night he was appointed to the council, and that he chose Davis because he knew they would have political disagreements.
The other precinct representatives that Wilkins has selected so far are Kathleen Sullivan, Mark Walker, Dennis McLoughlin, Alan Stockard and Jon Firebaugh.