July 12, 2012Guilford County's recent move to kick City of Greensboro employees and North Carolina court workers out of their parking spaces in the lot under the governmental plaza in downtown Greensboro has caused all sorts of unforeseen problems that include everything from security issues for court workers to a displacement of parking for handicapped jurors to an impairment of the normal function of some city and state operations.
The parking upheaval was one of the most poorly conceived and executed moves in recent Guilford County history – and, given recent county history, that's saying a lot.
The change, which was implemented out of the blue by Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox in April, meant that, starting Sunday, July 1, many city and court workers lost the parking places that they had had for years and in some cases decades. And since Fox made the decision with no communication with the City of Greensboro, the State of North Carolina or the affected city and court workers, and since Fox sought no input from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, no one was prepared to deal with the negative consequences of the safety and security issues, and the logistical problems the move created – and that's all on top of the assault on people's sense of fairness the move precipitated.
Jim Pfaff, a magistrate who works in the courthouse in Greensboro, said the loss of parking in the protected lot created a very serious security issue that has put court workers at risk.
"Now, an assistant district attorney might try a murder case, and leave out the same exit as those at the trial," he said.
He added, as another example, that now a female magistrate might have to walk blocks to her car late at night after dealing with people that she had just rendered judgment on.
Pfaff said the first he heard of losing his space and of the other court workers being thrown out was through a registered letter in April.
"There's no rationale for it at all," he said.
He said he realizes the county owns the underground lot.
"It's their prerogative," he said, but he added that the county administrators who made the decision had clearly given no consideration to the court employees' safety and had made no attempt to address their concerns.
Pfaff said he knew that the new jail downtown was creating parking issues for the county, but he added that the county owned the giant lot directly across the street from the new jail – until, that is, the Board of Commissioners sold it earlier this year for $2 million to the YMCA.
He said that lot should have been used for new jail parking and other county parking needs, rather than sold.
"That was a no-brainer," Pfaff said.
Like Pfaff, others also said the loss of the parking spaces impaired their work functions. One court clerk who collects the mail for her office, for instance, said she doesn't feel it's safe to now be walking down the street with a cart full of important legal documents.
Craig Turner, a trial court administrator, said that, after decades in the underground lot, many court workers were shocked at the way they were summarily tossed out.
He said many were greatly inconvenienced and that it is still a big topic of conversation.
"Not a day goes by that I don't hear people complaining about it," Turner said.
Another court employee said, "It's been a hot topic with judges and staff."
According to Turner, some handicapped employees who were thrown out of their spots have now been given parking places adjacent to the courthouse in spots that were once used for handicapped jurors. Therefore, he added, now there are problems when the courts need to find parking for handicapped jurors.
"It's kind of a ripple effect," Turner said.
He said there are some city employees – like some older and disabled court workers – who have trouble getting around and were displaced by the move.
Turner said Guilford County clearly created problems for itself when it built a giant new jail and provided no parking for it.
Regardless, Turner said, it doesn't make sense for the court and city workers to be thrown out since the county owned the large lot across the street from the jail.
"I don't understand pulling the spaces when they had other options across the street," he said.
"They sold the lot to the YMCA," he said with a tone of disbelief.
He said the large lot next to the YMCA had much better access to the new jail than the underground lot.
Turner said another part of the problem was how the move assaulted people's sense of fairness. Just like the county had people on a waiting list, city and court workers had also been on a waiting list for years. He said some had finally gotten a space, only to, soon afterward, get a letter from the county saying he or she would be thrown out on July 1.
The first indication of the loss of spaces came on Friday, April 27, when the county sent out letters to 30 state employees and 59 Greensboro employees, informing them that Guilford County was summarily kicking them out of the underground lot.
That letter, which was sent by Guilford County Facilities Director Fred Jones at the direction of Fox, told those city and state employees they would be thrown out after Sunday, July 1.
The longstanding parking arrangement was extremely convenient to state employees who work in the Guilford County Courthouse and the Greensboro employees in the Melvin Municipal Office Building – as the lot is right next door.
Commissioner Billy Yow said Fox and other county administrators showed a great lack of foresight to just make the change without asking those involved about the implications or without attempting to address any of the problems beforehand.
"They should have had the courtesy to hear their concerns first," Yow said.
However, in typical Fox management style, the move was made without consulting anyone, and it was done with apparently no consideration to how it may affect other parties that Guilford County is supposed to be cooperating with.