September 03, 2009
|Inmates Run Asylum At Council Meeting|
Every flake and whacko in Greensboro who would like to see themselves on television should attend the next meeting of the Greensboro City Council, because Mayor Yvonne Johnson is allowing anyone to speak whenever they want.
Actually that statement indicates that Johnson is exhibiting control over meetings. City Council meetings have become a free-for-all. Councilmembers apparently have no more right to speak at their own meeting than people who wander in to get out of the rain. Town hall meetings designed to elicit public comment have more structure than the City Council meetings.
Johnson allowed a member of the audience, Mike Martin, who happens to be a City Council candidate in District 4, to come to the microphone and aggressively question Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance (GEDA), about the GEDA annual report to the council.
Lynch handled it well, but Johnson did not. After 16 years on the City Council she seems to have no idea what the job of the mayor entails. At one point Johnson asked City Attorney Terry Wood if it would be illegal for someone from the audience to speak. Wood replied that it would not be illegal, which Johnson interpreted to mean that she had to allow them to speak, and if they were allowed to speak they could say anything they wanted.
Lots and lots of activities that are not allowed at council meetings are not illegal. It is not illegal for a speaker from the floor to speak over three minutes. It is not illegal for a councilmember to interrupt a speaker, make fun of the speaker or call the speaker names. It would not be illegal for all the male members of the council to come to a meeting without shirts and shoes. It would not be pleasant but it would not be illegal.
During a break Johnson told this reporter that she recognized that things had gotten out of hand, but after the break she continued to allow candidates from the audience to control the meeting.
Johnson doesn't seem to realize that it is her job as the mayor to keep the meeting under control. The public should be allowed to speak, but not to speak without limits.
It may be no accident that the candidates Johnson was allowing to speak whenever they wanted were candidates running against councilmembers where Johnson has assisted the opposition. Martin is running against At-large Councilmember Mary Rakestraw and Joel Landau in the District 4 race. Although Johnson has not helped Martin other than giving him free television time, Johnson did want to read a resolution in support of one of Landau's projects at a City Council meeting but cancelled that when it was vehemently opposed by councilmembers. She read the resolution at the Farmers Curb Market on Yanceyville Street on Saturday, August 29.
The other speaker who spoke repeatedly and interrupted and argued with councilmembers trying to speak at their own meeting, was District 3 candidate George Hartzman, who is running against incumbent Councilmember Zack Matheny and Jay Ovittorre. Johnson was reportedly listed as a speaker at an Ovittorre fundraiser.
It would be interesting to see if Johnson would allow Bill Knight, who is running for mayor against her, to repeatedly speak at a City Council meeting, interrupt councilmembers, harangue other speakers with questions and generally take over the meeting.
Knight would never do any of those things, and it is doubtful if the behavior of Martin and Hartzman at the meeting helped their campaigns, but the council meetings are getting worse and worse.
Right from the beginning, Johnson ignored the rule that says that speakers from the floor will have 30 minutes at the beginning of the meeting, and the council will hear additional comments at the end of the meeting. Speakers just went on and on, many saying the same thing about Benbow Park.
The problem at Benbow Park is an interesting one because the city used state stream reclamation funds to return the stream to a more natural state. The more natural state involves letting the plants and trees grow naturally on the banks of the stream and in a buffer area. The neighbors don't like the forest that has grown up along the creek in the middle of the park, but the state regulations say that it has to stay like that unless the city can find some other creek to reclaim and trade for it. This is a process that will take three to five years in the best case scenario, and when dealing with the State of North Carolina, things rarely happen in line with the best case scenario.
Having a more natural creek is much better for water quality, but in many neighborhoods it isn't appreciated.
The council also discussed cleaning up the area around Hickory Trails public housing, where a young man was shot several weeks ago. Johnson and Councilmember Trudy Wade had the sheriff send a crew of inmates out to cut the undergrowth and clean up the area. Some neighbors evidently liked having the brush cut and others did not.
District 1 City Council candidate Ben Holder gave an update on the Police Department's failure to enforce the laws on the books against selling crack pipes. For some reason, the Police Department is issuing warnings to convenience stores selling crack pipes, instead of issuing citations.
Holder also brought to the council's attention the fact that a seating area on the Downtown Greenway off Bilbro Street was causing problems.
Johnson said Wade had told her that "children were witnessing prostitution" taking place in the seating area.
District 1 Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small said that surveillance cameras were supposed to go up on the Greenway someday and that the seating area was considered public art. She also said city crews were picking up trash on the Greenway until an endowment to cover that expense could be raised.
Johnson suggested that the seating area be moved until some surveillance cameras could be installed, because people who live next to the seating area should not have to put up with prostitutes using it to practice their business.
A group of Minority and Women's Business Enterprise (MWBE) contractors came to complain that they were not getting their fair share of city contracts. They also complained that the figures from the MWBE department were not broken down enough to tell how many contracts went to women and how many to other minorities.
Councilmember Sandra Anderson Groat said, "We need to be enforcing these quotas that we have." Quotas have been found illegal by the federal courts which is why the city has an MWBE department and requires businesses to spend a fortune making a "good faith effort" to hire minority contractors.
The group and Groat seemed to think MWBE contractors should be guaranteed a certain percentage of city contracts, but interim City Manager Bob Morgan noted that the city was bound by law to award a contract to the lowest responsible bidder.
The council had virtually no business on the agenda. There was an unopposed rezoning of the old Jesse Wharton School on Pisgah Church Road, which took only as long as it took to make the presentation.
The City Council had some resolutions on bonds that it is going to sell in the next fiscal year. Hartzman spoke on these bonds saying that the council was violating its own resolution not to sell bonds this year. The agenda stated that the bonds wouldn't be sold until the 2010-2011 fiscal year, but Hartzman insisted that it was a violation of policy because the bonds were going to be sold this year. He did not let facts get in his way.
Hartzman and Matheny got into a back-and-forth, with Matheny finally asking Hartzman to allow him to speak, just as Matheny had allowed him to speak without interruption. This was yet another situation where having a mayor who participated in the meeting would have been helpful.
The council met in closed session for almost an hour and adjourned at 9:11 p.m., which means the council conducted almost no business but met for three-and-a-half hours. Under the current rules, if the council gets a real agenda it will be meeting all night.