October 29, 2009
|Knight, Thompson Can Advance City|
Mayor is the highest elected office in Greensboro, and it should be occupied by someone who understands how to use that power.
The most common complaint about the current City Council could be fixed by mayoral candidate Bill Knight at the first meeting after he is elected mayor.
The city charter doesn't give the mayor a whole lot of power, but the mayor does have the power to run the meetings. City Council meetings have written agendas and those agendas, while not written in stone, are supposed to indicate how the meeting will be run. Knight will likely run the meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order, which does not mean selecting your friends and letting them go first, or letting your friends talk whenever they desire.
It is not appropriate for councilmembers to speak about any topic any time a thought pops into their heads. The discussion is supposed to be germane to the agenda item being considered. Knight knows that to effectively run a meeting the rules have to apply to everyone equally. Mayor Yvonne Johnson refuses to do so.
Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small has been allowed by Mayor Johnson to talk about whatever she wants whenever she wants. The mayor even allows Bellamy-Small to verbally abuse people who come to speak to the council.
Councilmember Goldie Wells is allowed to speak while other councilmembers are speaking. She constantly interrupts other councilmembers and refuses to wait her turn to make a statement. Johnson won't use the power she has to run the meeting properly and nobody else can while she is mayor.
Greensboro is in desperate need of leadership, and the person who was elected leader refuses to treat her fellow councilmembers fairly.
Mayor Johnson does use her power to do favors for friends. She wanted to get the restaurant/bar Alexander Devereux reopened despite the fact that the owner who had caused constant problems and owed the city $29,000 in fines was still involved. The new club was granted a liquor license by the state because the mayor intervened by writing a letter asking that it be granted.
Mayor Johnson also went down to Raleigh to lobby for the right of government workers to have full-fledged unions that negotiate contracts. It would cost the taxpayers a fortune to have government workers under union contracts, but Mayor Johnson felt so strongly about supporting unions for government employees that she made a rare trip to the legislature to appear on the podium with the other supporters. There was only one other mayor in the entire state who appeared in support of full-fledged government unions, the mayor of Carrboro, the most liberal city in the state.
Mayor Johnson said it was unusual for her to go to Raleigh to lobby the legislature, but she said she felt strongly about the right of workers to be represented by the union. She evidently didn't feel that strongly about many of the issues affecting Greensboro, because she didn't go to Raleigh in support of them.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a mayor who would go to Raleigh to lobby for the people of Greensboro rather than for union organizers?
Knight would bring some decorum and sensibility to the City Council. Knight is a retired accountant. He is going to insist on getting some real budget figures from the city staff. The Mickey Mouse budget figures that the City Council accepts are so general that it is impossible to tell where and how money is being spent. In fact, when looking at the budget, Knight said he was surprised to learn that the City Council doesn't get an accounting of how the money was spent, just what was budgeted in the current year.
Under Mayor Johnson, for the first time in at least 20 years, the City Council never sat down and went through the budget amongst themselves. Usually the council holds a number of lengthy special meetings where the budget is the only topic of discussion. That was not done this year, just as the City Council failed to hold a winter weekend retreat to discuss the budget priorities for the upcoming year. The result is that the staff did pretty much what it wanted.
The council also cancelled a large number of briefing sessions where councilmembers normally hear reports and discuss issues in a more informal manner. In the past, it has been where much of the work of the council has taken place, but under Johnson the meetings were cancelled.
Mayor Johnson brags about cutting $7.5 million from the budget without cutting services, but what that really means is that the city was spending $7.5 million that it didn't need to be spending. Other local governing bodies, like the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, made real cuts to the budget. The City Council under Mayor Johnson just waved a magic wand over the budget, declared that the necessary $7.5 million had magically been cut and went home.
Knight first got involved in city politics because, through his friends on the Police Department, he knew that what had happened to former Police Chief David Wray was wrong. Mayor Johnson still supports the actions of former City Manager Mitch Johnson, whose solution to dealing with Wray was to lock him out of his office while he was still police chief. She defends what Mitch Johnson did, which has been devastating to the Greensboro Police Department. This is not surprising, as Mitch Johnson got his marching orders from the Simkins PAC and Mayor Johnson is a member of the Simkins PAC.
Other councilmembers have pressed for information about what really happened. Mayor Johnson was always content to accept the misinformation that she was being told by Mitch Johnson.
Mayor Johnson has time after time voted for tax increases. This year there was no tax increase, but Greensboro currently has the highest tax rate of any comparable city in North Carolina, and Yvonne Johnson says that she has voted in favor of the last 16 budgets that have given us this high tax rate.
The council could use more decorum and fiscal responsibility and Knight would bring both. Knight is not a fireworks and brimstone candidate, but the council has had enough explosiveness for a while. It could use a calm steady hand at the rudder, and Knight will bring that.
In the at-large race you can vote for three candidates, but you don't have to. The voting machine is going to make you go back and look at your votes again if you only vote for two, which is what we are recommending, you just have to tell the machine again that you want to vote for two.
In the at-large race Nancy Barakat Vaughan and Danny Thompson are the two best candidates, and we recommend that you only vote for those two.
The at-large race is fascinating, and with every day there seems to be another variable thrown into the mix. It is as certain as anything is in politics that Vaughan will finish in first place. It is not quite so certain that Robbie Perkins will once again come in second. Then you have four candidates, Thompson, Gary Nixon, Councilmember Sandra Anderson Groat and Marikay Abuzuaiter, who all have a good shot at that third seat, which is currently held by Councilmember Mary Rakestraw, who is running for the District 4 council seat.
So in this race four candidates are vying for one seat, and they all have a legitimate shot at it. We are endorsing just two because we think that Thompson is the best candidate for the job and to add another candidate to our endorsement would hurt Thompson's chances of winning.
With this endorsement Vaughan has won the Trifecta of endorsements. She has been endorsed by the News & Record, the Simkins PAC and The Rhino Times. We hope it is all for the same reason. Vaughan was a thoughtful, considerate, effective councilmember when she served on the City Council from 1997 to 2001, and having taken some time off, is expected to come back and do the same kind of job she did before. Being out of office for a few years gives elected officials a different perspective. Rank does have its privileges, and doing without those privileges for a while seems to be good for people.
Vaughan was on the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority for six years, which is great experience to bring to the City Council if Greensboro is to become an aerotropolis. She got involved in politics because of the massive rezoning on New Garden Road when Jefferson Pilot decided to develop the Jefferson Pilot Club. As a neighborhood representative she led the fight that kept a regional mall from being located on the property, and instead the area has a library, two schools, a park, some really nice homes and more retail development than the neighborhood wanted. But it was far better than the alternative, and a great learning experience for someone interested in politics.
Thompson is the new candidate in the City Council race this year who has really impressed people. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he has a lot of ideas. He also seems to have grasped the essence of the issues quickly. On controversial issues he has been promising, not what he would do but how he would vote. It's a subtle difference that indicates he understands he can't do anything without the votes of four other councilmembers. He appears to be the kind of candidate who could bring the council together.
Thompson is a small business owner who was just annexed into the city. He's a fiscal conservative who is not in favor of raising taxes and in favor of cutting city expenses. It is his enthusiasm that sets him apart and the council could really use it. Thompson has that ability to connect with people, and in our opinion will be able to turn some of his good ideas about sound fiscal management of our city government into reality.
We endorsed Gary Nixon in the primary, but in our opinion Thompson would be a far better councilmember than Nixon. In the primary they were both running to be one of the six. Now they are in reality running against each other for the one available seat. Nixon has said that he could have spent more money and run a higher profile campaign, letting more people know he was running and what his issues were, but he chose not to. It's an odd choice if he wants to be a councilmember.
The way he has talked about other candidates – in some kind of code where everyone is supposed to know whom he is talking about but he doesn't want to name names – has been disappointing. It's not appealing. Nixon ran an engineering company that did water and sewer work for Greensboro and the other municipalities in the area, and there is no doubt he knows that business. But he appears to think that because he knows a lot more about contracts and financing than the other councilmembers that they are going to follow his lead, which doesn't seem likely.
Groat, who is serving her second term as mayor pro tem, having finished first in the at-large race in 2005 and 2007, finished third in the primary. However, what won her that third spot was running well in the primarily black precincts that usually follow the voting recommendation of the Simkins PAC, and this year she was not endorsed by the PAC. In 2005 and 2007 Groat was endorsed by the PAC in the general elections. The PAC doesn't endorse in the primary.
The Rhino Times endorsed her in 2005. In speaking about why she didn't initially vote to fire former City Manager Mitch Johnson, Groat said she believed that people deserved second chances. It's not a bad philosophy, but evidently Groat decided that Mitch Johnson didn't deserve a fifth or sixth chance and voted to fire him.
The same could be said about Groat. She has twice been the highest vote-getter in the at-large election and been elected mayor pro tem, but she is not one of the leaders of the City Council. She doesn't speak often on the issues and when she does it is often difficult to relate her comments to the issue at hand. Although she did ultimately vote to fire Mitch Johnson she was also one of the architects of the deal that allowed him to get paid his full salary and benefits for four-and-a-half months while he was no longer manager, and then he received a check for six months pay on July 15.
Groat was on the City Council when former Police Chief David Wray was locked out of his office, and she supported the efforts of Mitch Johnson against Wray supporters for far too long.
She said she wants two more years on the City Council and seems to be claiming a lot of credit for hiring City Manager Rashad Young. Groat did chair the committee that made the recommendations to the council about which headhunting firm to hire.
Finishing sixth in the primary was Abuzuaiter. In 2007 Abuzuaiter finished sixth in the primary, then got the PAC endorsement and finished fourth in the general election. But Rakestraw beat her for that third seat. Rakestraw has won two elections to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners so she has great name recognition. She is also one public official who will go where she is asked to go. Nobody in Greensboro knows everybody, but Rakestraw comes as close as anyone.
If the PAC gets out the voters and makes sure they vote for the candidates the PAC has endorsed, then Abuzuaiter has a chance at being elected. It is more likely that she will move up a spot or two but not make it on to the council.
She has noticeably moved left since she ran in 2007, and appears to have aligned herself with Mayor Johnson.
At a recent forum, Abuzuaiter did an unusually complete job of avoiding the questions. She makes a big deal of being in all five districts every day, but most people don't know where the district lines are and many don't find out what district they live in until they go vote. It is hard to see why being in all five districts on a daily basis as a reason for voting for someone.
Two years ago The Rhino Times endorsed Councilmember Robbie Perkins, who was running for an at-large seat for the first time. Perkins had served for 12 years as the District 3 councilmember, didn't run for reelection in 2005 and then finished second in the at-large race in 2007, winning a seat.
This year Perkins received the Simkins PAC endorsement and has good name recognition and will most likely win. But his old District 3 supporters should take a good long look at whom Perkins has been supporting in this last term.
It is a poorly kept secret that Perkins wants to be mayor. He has said that he ran for City Council in 2007 because Mayor Yvonne Johnson asked him to. He has certainly been her right-hand man. Perkins has voted with Yvonne Johnson and Councilmembers Dianne Bellamy-Small and Goldie Wells so consistently that other councilmembers call them Perkins and the Perkinettes.
Perkins supported former City Manager Mitch Johnson and still supports his actions, even though much of what Mitch Johnson told the council has proven to be untrue.
Perkins has suggested that the city loan the money to the state to buy the land for the interstate highway that is planned to go north of Pisgah Church Road and south of the lakes – the northern leg of the so-called outer loop. It is far inside the Greensboro city limits now, so calling it the outer loops seems misleading. Whether loaning the state money is a good idea or not is certainly debatable. That the loop would be a boon to those in the commercial real estate business, like Perkins, is not.
Perkins is a huge proponent of regional initiatives and is one of the driving forces behind the Heart of the Triad regional development effort. Once again, whether or not developing land in the area around Colfax and Kernersville is necessarily good for Greensboro is debatable; whether or not it will be good for a commercial real estate company named NAI Piedmont Triad, headed by Perkins, is not.
Perkins will no doubt be back, but hopefully other councilmembers will keep a watch on Perkins, like Councilmember Mike Barber did in this last term, when Barber found that Perkins had bypassed normal channels to get a $1 million sewer line needed for the development of the old Pilot Life property that Perkins was selling as the real estate agent for Lincoln Financial.
The choice in District 5 is easy. City Councilmember Trudy Wade has made a big difference in her first two years on the City Council.
She and At-large Councilmember Mary Rakestraw were responsible for the people of Greensboro not having a water rate increase. The Water Resources Department wanted a rate increase and almost always gets what it wants. Wade, however, requested and then read the financial material on the Water Resources Department and found that department has $21.5 million in the bank. When Wade pointed that fact out to the rest of the council, the support for the rate increase, which had been solid, faded into the shadows.
But the big issue of this council was firing former City Manager Mitch Johnson, and Wade was right on that from the beginning. She, Rakestraw and Councilmember Mike Barber had to wait over a year for other members of the council to come on board, but eventually they did.
The News & Record has reported that Johnson was "forced to retire." If that is true then Johnson owes the city a pile of money. Because Johnson was fired he received six months salary. If he retired he doesn't get that salary, so if the News & Record is right, maybe the Bryan Foundation will step forward and pay the city back.
Wade has been instrumental in holding the city staff accountable. She reads the material they send her and requests more, which she also reads. Wade is not like some councilmembers who ask questions because they want more face time on television. When Wade does ask questions she has a point.
Art Boyett has not given the voters any reason to vote for him other than he is not Trudy Wade. Boyett acted in community theater and has become somewhat theatrical at some of the forums. It's a nice change of pace, but the council doesn't need any character actors.
Boyett says that he has lived in Greensboro for four years, but according to the records at the Board of Elections he has only been registered to vote for two. Boyett says he is running to serve the community. There are lots of community organizations that do great work in the community. You don't have to be on the City Council to serve the community, and if Boyett wants to serve he certainly will be able to serve whether he wins the election or not.
District 5 has been well served by Wade and the voters would be wise to return her to the council. City Manager Rashad Young is new to the area and could use the counsel of someone who has been around for a while and knows how things do and don't work. Wade, who along with having two years as a councilmember behind her, has also served as a Guilford County commissioner, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Health, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Social Services and a member of the North Carolina State Board of Health, just to name a few. She had no trouble serving the community even when she was not a councilmember.
Greensboro and the Greensboro City Council need at-large councilmember Mary Rakestraw to continue to serve on the council. She is running to represent District 4, which is currently represented by Councilmember Mike Barber, who is not running for reelection.
Rakestraw has been a leader on this council. She has led through persistence. Rakestraw made the first motion to remove former City Manager Mitch Johnson from office a few months after being sworn in, when she discovered that Mitch Johnson was not being honest with the council. To her credit she maintained a cordial working relationship with Mitch Johnson while he was manager.
The entire Police Department scandal, where former City Manager Mitch Johnson forced the resignation or retirement of former Chief David Wray and his entire command staff, with the exception of current Police Chief Tim Bellamy, came down to the trial of Police Detective Scott Sanders. Rakestraw was the only councilmember who attended the entire trial, to hear testimony under oath of what really happened. When Sanders was found not guilty and all of the other charges were dismissed, Rakestraw asked for Mitch Johnson to resign. He did not resign but was fired less than two weeks later.
Rakestraw is the councilmember who has insisted on seeing information firsthand rather than relying on the report on that information from Mitch Johnson, who she discovered time and time again was misleading the council. Some members of the council, like Mayor Yvonne Johnson and Councilmember Robbie Perkins, continue to deny the reality of what Mitch Johnson had been doing.
Rakestraw is currently serving as an at-large councilmember representing all of the people of Greensboro, and people in every district have discovered that Rakestraw can get things done. She knows how the city works, and people who have had problems with one department or another rave about the way Rakestraw was able to get results in hours when they had been mired in red tape for days, weeks or months. Some councilmembers serve for years and have no more idea of how to get something done at city hall than the man on the street. The people of Greensboro need Rakestraw advocating for them in city hall.
Joel Landau is making his third run for the City Council. He is a nice guy but has shown his true colors in the whole episode over having Signe Waller Foxworth as a campaign supporter. Waller Foxworth was a Communist Workers Party member and one of the instigators of the Death to the Klan March, which lead to the shootout between the communists and the Klan in Morningside Homes on Nov. 3,1979. Her first husband was killed in that shootout. You cannot get any further left than Waller Foxworth. Landau put her on his list of supporters and then took her off the list. He said that she was a friend but he took her down because he was concerned she might be controversial.
Landau responded to questions about Waller Foxworth by linking Rakestraw with E.H. Hennis. You can link any two people, but Rakestraw has never listed Hennis as one of her supporters. Hennis, in fact, blamed Rakestraw and former Guilford County Commissioner Phyllis Gibbs for his conviction on bomb fraud charges and has verbally attacked her many times in public meetings.
Landau's route to free television exposure has been through his appointment as co-chair of the Greensboro Sustainability Council. Because Mayor Johnson is a big supporter of Landau, the Sustainability Council has been on the agenda for meetings during the campaign.
What the Sustainability Council is doing is attempting to bring the industry restrictions of the Kyoto Protocol to Greensboro. The Kyoto Protocol treaty was rejected by a unanimous vote of the United States Senate. Not one single Democrat or Republican in the Senate supported the Kyoto Protocol, which has as its goal taking carbon emissions to 7 percent below what they were in 1990. If this were forced on the United States it would completely destroy the economy, something every single US senator realized, but Mayor Johnson, Landau and his group are doing their best to foist it on the people of Greensboro.
Landau is far left, and if he is elected Mayor Johnson puts another councilmember in her pocket, which is not what the City of Greensboro needs.
District 3 Councilmember Zack Matheny has done a good job and deserves a second term. Matheny was the only newly elected councilmember who was elected to public office for the first time in 2007. The other three newly elected councilmembers had all been elected in the past. Councilmembers Mary Rakestraw and Trudy Wade had served as Guilford County commissioners, and Councilmember Robbie Perkins had served on the council for 12 years before taking two years off. Matheny was essentially in a freshman class of one and was facing extremely difficult decisions, like whether or not to fire the city manager. He got that question wrong the first couple of times it came up, but eventually he got it right.
Matheny has come a long way as a councilmember and is definitely emerging as one of the leaders on the council. He is a fiscal conservative who has been a key player in keeping taxes and fees from increasing this year.
George Hartzman raises some relevant issues and has some good ideas, but at times he seems more concerned with the budget problems in California than in Greensboro.
He has become very concerned with other people's campaign contributions. Early in the campaign he said he wasn't going to accept any contribution of more than $200 until a supporter offered him $1,000 and then he changed his mind about his own campaign contributions.
Hartzman is extremely difficult to follow when he speaks at forums. It is hard to imagine him being a successful councilmember. The California budget is rarely an issue before the Greensboro City Council.
Both candidates in District 2 have some strong points. In the primary we leaned toward Nettie Coad, but after seeing the candidates at a few more forums, reading more and listening, we have decided to endorse Jim Kee.
Coad talks a lot about overcoming racism. Kee said you can't get past racism by talking about it all the time, and that rings true.
It seems like half the time at the forums has been taken up talking about economic development in east Greensboro. Kee is a developer building a mixed-use development in District 2. If people want more development in east Greensboro there doesn't seem to be a better way to do it than electing a developer from east Greensboro to the City Council.
Another factor that weighed heavily in our decision to pick Kee over Coad is that Coad, in talking about what Greensboro needs, keeps talking about the need for more planning. Greensboro has plans, and plans to have plans. It is hard to imagine Greensboro increasing its planning.
Kee talks about development, and about moving forward, and that fits much more with our idea of what Greensboro needs. It certainly doesn't need more plans.
If Luther Falls Jr. can win in District 1 it would dramatically change the City Council and be better for Greensboro. If Councilmember Dianne Bellamy-Small had a plan to help District 1 she would have a lot of trouble getting it passed because she doesn't speak to her fellow councilmembers. If you don't speak to people it is extremely difficult to convince them to vote with you. Bellamy-Small attacks everyone, including at times Mayor Yvonne Johnson.
A single councilmember can't spend a dollar of city funds. To get anything done takes five votes. When the City Council goes into closed session and sits around a table, Bellamy-Small refuses to sit with the other eight members of the council. She sits in chairs lined up along the wall for city staff. Before the meetings and during breaks the council has food in the board room, and every other councilmember comes in to eat barbecue, sandwiches, chicken or whatever is provided that night. Bellamy-Small usually comes in, piles a plate full of food and goes back to her cubicle to eat alone. A great many decisions are made around that table, but Bellamy-Small isn't a part because she isn't there.
It isn't likely that someone who refuses to sit with or eat with the other members of the council will be able to get four of them to vote with her.
Bellamy-Small complains about the lack of investment and development in District 1 but frequently votes against the rezoning requests that would allow that to happen. She says that she wants development, but votes against it.
Falls could do a lot for District 1 because the other councilmembers would work with Falls. He is a businessman who is interested in bringing economic development to the area and realizes that economic development usually involves some rezoning and cooperation. Falls has a much more practical outlook than Bellamy-Small and is not combative, which would be refreshing.
Bellamy-Small is the incumbent, which means she has to be considered the favorite, but if the voters of District 1 really want to see some improvements in their district, they should vote for Falls.
To the best of our knowledge, The Rhino Times has never endorsed a bond, and as a rule we are opposed to increasing government spending. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and the Greensboro Natural Science Center is that exception. We wholeheartedly endorse the $20 million Natural Science Center bond because the Natural Science Center does more with the tax dollars it receives than anyone else.
The Natural Science Center, with the money it has received, has become an astounding facility. The plans for the $20 million are going to make it the first-of-its-kind facility in the state.
The faculty is already accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Association of Museums.
The Natural Science Center is a facility that has done more with less. The 2000 bond was matched 100 percent by private donations, and the annual operating support is matched at 200 percent by private funding.
It is a fantastic facility that is rapidly becoming one of the most popular school field trip sites in the state, and had over 278,000 visitors last year.
The City Council certainly does not have to raise taxes to pay for the bonds, and we are not in favor of raising taxes to pay for the bonds. The other option is to reduce spending. The city staff theoretically cut $7.5 million from the proposed budget last year and nobody noticed. It can certainly cut enough to cover the payments on a $20 million bond without raising anyone's taxes, and the money can't be better spent than it will be at the Natural Science Center.
If you haven't been in a while, you need to stop by and see what they have done. It is a wonderful place for kids and adults who still like to learn new things.