August 20, 2009
|City Council Sneaks In Manager Candidates|
The Greensboro City Council is like a binge drinker when it comes to meetings.
The council won't meet for a while and then suddenly, like on Tuesday, August 18, the City Council will hold two long meetings.
The first meeting convened at 8 a.m. at the O. Henry Hotel on Green Valley Road. The reason for the off campus meeting was to interview applicants for the job of Greensboro city manager, a position that has been vacant since Mitch Johnson was fired as city manager on March 3. Interim City Manager Bob Morgan has been running the show since Johnson was fired. Councilmembers say they are pleased with the job Morgan is doing and the city is certainly running smoother since Morgan took over the reins, but Morgan says he did not apply for the job of manager, so when a new manager is hired, Morgan will go back to being deputy city manager.
The City Council met from 8 a.m. to shortly after noon. Although councilmembers would not give out any details about the candidates, they have said they were impressed with the field. Councilmembers also said that they had a good discussion. They met at the hotel so that city staff could sneak the candidates past the press into the closed session. It might also have been held there because it was an early meeting and they have really good coffee at the O. Henry Hotel.
Mayor Yvonne Johnson said that she expected the council to hire a new manager in about a month. Several councilmembers said they were very impressed with the candidates and that they thought any of the five interviewed could do a good job.
Mayor Johnson and seven councilmembers were present for the meeting. Councilmember Mary Rakestraw was out of town and participated for a portion of the meeting by telephone.
Earlier this year the council had voted to tape record all of its closed sessions but voted not to record this particular closed session. City Attorney Terry Wood advised the council that since the entire meeting would be covered under the personnel exemption, it would most likely never be made public, but could potentially be used to sue the council. The city is currently being sued by close to 50 employees and former employees so that settled the debate right there and the vote not to tape the meeting was unanimous.
Former City Manager Mitch Johnson got in trouble when he had been city manager for only a couple of months and locked Police Chief David Wray out of his office, which led to Wray's resignation. Not only did Wray resign but the entire command staff of the Greensboro Police Department resigned or retired, with the notable exception of Tim Bellamy who was promoted to chief.
But the Police Department is not the only department where Johnson had trouble keeping high-level employees. Right now in the city bureaucracy there are a bunch of acting department heads and one acting assistant city manager, Andy Scott. Assistant City Manager Denise Turner is out on maternity leave.
Acting Department of Transportation Director Adam Fischer has been acting director for over a year. The acting director of Housing and Community Development is Dan Curry. The acting director of Parks and Recreation is Anthony Wade, who is also the director of Human Relations.
So the new city manager, no matter who it is, will need to hit the ground running. The city staff is also trying to push through an ordinance to rezone every piece of land in the city and a Downtown Design and Compatibility Manual that will severely restrict downtown development.
The second meeting was the regular 5:30 meeting in the council chambers. When the meeting started Councilmembers Dianne Bellamy-Small, Mike Barber and Mary Rakestraw were all absent. Barber and Bellamy-Small arrived late but Rakestraw was absent.
Speakers from the floor continues to dominate the meeting. District 1 City Council candidate Ben Holder spoke at the beginning and end of the meeting about dilapidated housing in the Glenwood neighborhood. Holder wants the city to come in and tear the houses down, but the city maintains that property owners still have rights. The North Carolina General Assembly also passed legislation this term extending the duration of a building permit. So many construction jobs were halted because of the recession the lawmakers wanted to give the developers more time to recover, but the same law applies to a building permit to repair a dilapidated house.
District 1 Councilmember Bellamy-Small agreed with Holder and wanted to know why the city could not just take away the property rights of absentee landlords.
Holder promised he would be back if something wasn't done.
At-large City Council candidate Jorge Cornell, who is also known as King J and is the inca of the Almightily Latin King and Queen Nation of North Carolina, also spoke. Reportedly the inca is the statewide leader of the Latin King organization.
Cornell said, "I am the voice of the people." He also complained about what City Councilmembers Robbie Perkins, Sandra Anderson Groat, Mike Barber and Zack Matheny had said about him. He accused Barber of dragging the Latin King's name through the dirt.
Cornell also said, "Mayor Johnson, I love you. And I will not allow people like Mike Barber to speak to you." He added that he looked forward to sitting up there beside her after the election.
It would be interesting to know, and perhaps the Police Department should find out, how Cornell plans on keeping Barber from speaking to Johnson.
Downtown Greensboro Inc. gave its yearly report and Councilmember Trudy Wade asked some revealing questions. Wade asked about how the organization, which receives over $600,000 in tax dollars from Greensboro every year, was governed. DGI Chief Executive Officer Ed Wolverton said that the board members were nominated and then elected. When Wade asked who voted, Wolverton told her that the board voted. So the board elects the board. Wade said it didn't seem fair that all downtown property owners had to pay an additional tax that went to DGI but had no say in how the money was spent.
Wade said it sounded like DGI could "turn into a good chummy system." She suggested that DGI use the same system that the Merchants Association used where everyone was sent a ballot.
Wolverton said that people who were paying the bills did have input because DGI sent out a survey every year.
Wade said, "It is taxpayer money that is being spent. How is that a fair process?" She said that she had had several telephone calls from downtown business owners who paid the tax but had no idea what was going on with DGI.
When asked if the meetings were open to the public, Wolverton said "our meetings are generally open." But he added that they were not publicized.
Perkins and Matheny gave the standard speeches about how great DGI is and how much it has done for the downtown.
The City Council briefly discussed the new business incentive plan being considered by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. The plan would give an incentive equal to the increased taxes for any improvement to a commercial property. So a business that built a new facility would have to pay taxes on the land but not on the new building and it would be the same for expansions. Guilford County Commissioner Steve Arnold has been promoting the idea for years, but it looks like he now has the votes to pass it.
Wood said that the city was still waiting to hear back from the legal expert on such matters, but Wood seemed to think that just like incentives for big corporations, this could be structured so that it was legal.
Wade said she was interested because it would be an incentive for small businesses as well.
Wade also asked Planning Director Dick Hails if the City Council ever directed the Planning Department to rewrite the Land Development Ordinance (LDO), which will rezone every piece of property in Greensboro.
Hails struggled with an answer but Morgan said that the Comprehensive Plan recommended that the LDO be rewritten so that when the council passed the Comprehensive Plan it was approving a rewrite of all the zoning ordinances.
After that explanation Wade noted that the council never directed staff to rewrite the ordinance and rezone everything.
It wasn't mentioned, but when the council passed the Comprehensive Plan, it also took away its own power to rezone property. In fact for about six months it was a huge mess to get any property in Greensboro rezoned. The council had to go back and revise the Comprehensive Plan so that it could rezone property more than twice a year. When the council passed the Comp Plan it had no idea that it was handing its power over to the cartographers who designed the Generalized Future Land Use Map. Now changes to that map are made regularly but when it first passed, the council didn't have the ability to change it and couldn't rezone property that was out of compliance with it.
Hails noted that he had gotten the message to slow down the process in passing the ordinance that will rezone all of Greensboro and that three more public hearings were scheduled. He also said the planning department was figuring out how to send a notice to every property owner. At a public hearing in July, Hails had said that the city did not plan to notify individual property owners that their property was being rezoned. The City Council told him that idea would not fly.
Matheny and Wade got in a back and forth about where the police needed video cameras more – High Point Road or downtown. Wade, whose district includes High Point Road, thought the cameras should go on High Point Road. Matheny, whose district includes the downtown, thought the downtown should get the cameras.
Bellamy-Small got a lot of double takes when she started talking about an "SOB on MLK." It went right over the heads of most people in the room. The translation – a "Sexually Oriented Business on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive."