Note To Council: Republicans In Charge
February 24, 2011The Greensboro City Council held a special called meeting Monday afternoon, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m., to discuss the legislative agenda – the bills that Greensboro asks the North Carolina state legislature to pass.
Only four members of the council showed up for the meeting – Mayor Bill Knight, and Councilmembers Zack Matheny, Robbie Perkins and Nancy Vaughan.
Perkins pointed out that there wasn't much they could do since they didn't have a quorum and asked why the mayor had called a special meeting.
The council has already passed its legislative agenda and a group from the City Council has already gone down to Raleigh to meet with the Guilford delegation.
Knight said that he and several other councilmembers were going to Raleigh on Wednesday to meet with Senators Phil Berger and Don Vaughan. Berger, a Republican from Eden, is the president pro tem of the state Senate, which is more or less equivalent to the speaker of the House. So Berger has a lot of clout in the Senate. Vaughan is a Democrat, so he has not so much.
Assistant City Manager Denise Turner said that Vaughan had said he would sponsor any of the bills that don't already have someone to sponsor them.
The purpose of the meeting seemed to be to hear from George House, an attorney with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, who specializes in environmental issues. House was the lead attorney representing the city in the lawsuit over the T.Z. Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion, where the city was awarded over $16 million last summer.
House was at this special meeting to give his opinion on how to proceed with the city's opposition to the Jordan Lake Rules, which, if they are enforced, will cost the city about $70 million in the next couple of years, and, down the road when storm water has to be handled, will cost an amount estimated by the state at $200 million, and estimated by the building industry in the billions. It would require retrofitting neighborhoods with storm water detention ponds.
House told the council that everyone agreed the science on which the Jordan Lake Rules were based is weak. He said the data is faulty, but for the city to come up with really good data would take two years and cost $250,000. House said he thought the city would have a much better chance of lobbying for a delay in implementation to get good data than in attempting to have the rules thrown out.
Perkins said the city would face strong opposition from state Rep. Pricey Harrison. "Pricey is going to go nuts," he said. "I would have the total and full endorsement of the metro mayors before going forward. I would have the full endorsement of the League of Municipalities."
What nobody said but someone should have pointed out to Perkins, and everyone else in the room, is that this is not the legislature that approved the Jordan Lake Rules. Since they were approved the Democrats have been run out of Raleigh and the Republicans have taken over. Harrison's opinion of the bill should have the same weight that Rep. John Blust's opinion had in the last legislature, which is not much. Blust through the years has introduced numerous well thought out, much needed bills, and most have ended up in the trashcan of some committee meeting room, not because they weren't good bills but because Blust is a Republican.
Harrison is a Democrat. If the Republicans are going to follow the lead of Harrison, they might as well step aside and let the Democrats run the show. The League of Municipalities is a decidedly left-wing organization. It has historically supported more and more government spending and is currently in a big fight with the Republican majority in the legislature over a moratorium on forced annexation.
This is not your father's or your grandfather's state legislature. It is a whole new ballgame.
Later in the meeting it was noted that state Rep. Alma Adams didn't like the idea of having the Greensboro city attorney work directly for the City Council. In every city and town in North Carolina, with the exception of High Point, the city attorney works for the elected body, not the manager.
Perkins said Adams had the NC Legislative Black Caucus behind her and could block the bill. Once again the City Council needs to wake up and realize that the Democrats don't run the legislature. The Legislative Black Caucus is a powerful force in the Democratic Party because often if it pulls its support of a bill it will fail. The Republicans control the legislature. The black caucus is just another organization in the minority party. If the Republicans in control of the legislature are smart, and there is no indication so far that they are, they will not allow the black caucus or any other Democratic association to control their agenda.
The voters of the state by an overwhelming margin elected Republicans to run the state government. They didn't elect the Democrats, as they had for 112 years. If the Republicans don't make drastic changes they will be gone in two years and the state had better brace itself for another 112 years of Democratic rule. You would think that the Greensboro City Council, with six Republicans, one Independent and only two Democrats, would realize that just as the Greensboro City Council has changed, so has the legislature.
The next discussion held at the special meeting once again demonstrated the difference between government and business. The city has over $2 million in outstanding parking tickets. The only way the city staff can think of to collect this $2 million is to get a bill passed by the state legislature to prevent people with outstanding parking tickets from re-registering their cars. So you would not be able to get the license plate on a car renewed if there were outstanding parking tickets on that license plate.
This no doubt would result in far more people paying their parking tickets, but it is also a lot of work for the state, and Turner suggested that the city offer the state 15 percent of what was collected. Knight suggested that 25 percent would not be bad.
Whether it is 15 or 25 percent the whole process will add to the bureaucracy of state government – more employees, more forms to fill out and no doubt more cost because the state is not the most efficient organization in the world and is not set up to make a profit.
City Manager Rashad Young explained that the city didn't have any way to compel people to pay their tickets. He said the city would have to take people to court if they refused to pay.
It is incredible that any company stays in business because private businesses don't have the power of the city to cut off people's water or put a lien on their property. How in the world do private businesses people their invoices paid?
Here is one thing that would help enormously. The city could try to collect the money itself. Business owners, or anyone who has ever owed money, know this but the city does not – people pay more after they are asked to pay. This is done by sending letters and making telephone calls. You might call them reminders.
If the reminders don't work then companies start taking people to court. (In the case of the city it might be best not to start with a lawyer who can go to court for free.) The city should take a bunch of people to small claims court and let the news media know about it. If the city is lucky, somebody will write a story about the city taking 100 parking scofflaws to court and jamming up the entire small claims court process. If not, the word will still get around. People will pay because they know if they don't they will be taken to court. Right now people who get a lot of parking tickets know that if they don't pay them nothing happens.
The city has the authority to put wheel locks (boots) on cars or have cars towed that have more than three outstanding overdue parking tickets, but Young said it was not cost effective to have police actually boot or tow cars.
There is a much simpler solution. If the city is willing to pay the state 15 percent to 25 percent to collect the money, why not hire a collection agency?
Young said the city may try to get a collection agency to collect some of the money.
There is yet another solution – make all the parking downtown free during the day, like it is at night, and then the city doesn't have the expense of meters, parking enforcement officers or the attempt to collect the fines.
The city could even try free parking for a week or a month and see if it worked.