December 24, 2009
|Perkins Recruiting For The Perkinettes|
Conservatives were elated about the municipal election this year, and rightly so. The election is nonpartisan, but the party affiliation of the candidates is well known, and not only did the voters of Greensboro elect a conservative Republican as mayor, there are five Republican city councilmembers.
But it is a nonpartisan board, and it appears that although the Republicans have a majority on the City Council, conservatives don't. The aquatic center vote revealed the split on the City Council that is likely to be seen again.
At the council retreat on Saturday, Dec. 12, Councilmember Robbie Perkins said the battle lines had been drawn and the teams divided up. According to Perkins, his team is made of Councilmembers T. Dianne Bellamy-Small, Zack Matheny and Jim Kee. The other team is Mayor Bill Knight, and Councilmembers Mary Rakestraw, Danny Thompson and Trudy Wade.
Perkins said the swing vote was Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, who is unaffiliated but was a Republican, and is married to Democratic state Sen. Don Vaughan. Perkins may be right, but his assumption that Matheny is on his team may be wishful thinking.
On the previous council Perkins was the leader of a four-member group that voted together on big issues. The group, led by Perkins, and known by some as Perkins and the Perkinettes, included former Mayor Yvonne Johnson, Councilmember Bellamy-Small and former Councilmember Goldie Wells. So only one member of the Perkinettes is returning, and it looks to me like Perkins and the Perkinettes are going to have just three members, because despite what Perkins says, I don't think Matheny wants to be a Perkinette.
In fact, it looks right now like things have reversed on this City Council, and while the conservatives, led by Knight, don't have a majority, they have four votes. And the liberals, led by Perkins, have three. And in the middle you have Matheny and Vaughan.
Perkins says he wants to get along with Knight and that the press should give them a chance to get along. But Perkins' actions indicate that he is going to battle Knight, Rakestraw, Thompson and Wade at every turn.
In our form of government the mayor doesn't have much power, but the mayor is allowed to appoint councilmembers to various boards and commissions and also allowed to establish the seating chart for the council.
Perkins has already won the boards and commissions battle by telling Knight that he had five votes to change Knight's appointments. Before the matter came to a vote Wade told Knight to take her off all the boards and commissions she was on because it wasn't worth fighting about. So it never came to a vote, but since Matheny didn't like his appointments it appeared that Perkins might have the votes. In that instance Vaughan was the swing vote.
Perkins says he may have the votes to change the seating arrangement. If he does, that will be an indication that Vaughan is going to fill the empty microphone in the Perkinettes, and in this case Matheny will vote with Perkins because he reportedly hates sitting beside Bellamy-Small. The word on the council is that Matheny will vote with Perkins to go back to the old seating arrangement – one that the staff was told would be operative and was published in this newspaper but that Knight changed, as is his right, before the first meeting.
The earlier seating chart would make Perkins, Kee and Matheny all happy. That seating chart keeps Bellamy-Small on the far left as you are facing the council. Perkins would be between her and Kee. It also puts Matheny on the mayor's left, which is considered a position of power since that councilmember can easily hold private conversations with the mayor. It is where Perkins sat on the previous council, and he was clearly the number two person on the council.
Since Bellamy-Small supports whatever Perkins tells her to support, and Kee wants to sit beside Perkins, that is four votes. But Vaughan wouldn't move under any seating arrangement because she is mayor pro tem, and by tradition the mayor pro tem sits on the mayor's right.
So Vaughan would be left deciding whether Perkins or Knight should decide where councilmembers sit. If she goes with Perkins it is a huge slap in the face to Knight, the newly elected mayor, as well as to those who voted for him and expected him to be given the same rights and privileges as former mayors.
It is seemingly a small vote but one that is fraught with implications because if Perkins can convince Vaughan on this in-your-face issue, then Vaughan is in his pocket and will have to be considered a Perkinette. If Vaughan wants to get along with both sides she'll allow Knight to arrange the seating just like all the other mayors for the past 20 years.
The seating, which did not come up at the first regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15, will be a test of who has five votes. If it never comes up again that is because Perkins can't put together five votes. So if Knight wins this battle and Perkins only has two additional votes in his pocket, then it will most likely never come up for a vote. Perkins has been around too long to make a motion like that only to lose.
One thing that really makes this council different is that it has four new members. If the voters had reelected Yvonne Johnson and Sandra Anderson Groat, Kee would have replaced Goldie Wells and Thompson, in a roundabout way, would have replaced Mike Barber. Kee probably would have taken Wells' seat and her boards and commissions, and Thompson would have taken Barber's seat and some of his appointments, although Rakestraw, who now represents District 4, may have also gotten some. On the previous council Rakestraw was elected at large, but this year she won the District 4 seat that had been held by Barber, who didn't run for reelection. Thompson was elected at large to serve in Rakestraw's old seat.
The big difference is that the voters of Greensboro didn't return the status quo to power, and Knight is trying to recognize that the voters elected a far more conservative council. Perkins supported Johnson for mayor and should be on the outside of this council looking in, but he won't be if he can take advantage of Knight's inexperience early in the game and deal him a couple of swift, unexpected body blows.
Another interesting note about this council is that Perkins is in commercial real estate and has a hand in many of the big rezoning requests that come down the pike. Vaughan's husband is an attorney who has started representing a lot of neighborhoods on rezoning cases, so both Perkins and Vaughan are likely going to have to recuse themselves frequently on rezoning cases.
One of the reasons for the way the council is set, with a mayor, three at-large and five district members, is that each voter has the opportunity to vote for five members of council, which is a majority, but with two at-large members abstaining, the voters are down to three that they can vote for, and the district councilmembers end up with a lot more power.
Only time will tell how this council will shake out. One factor to consider is that Rakestraw, Wade and Barber only had three votes on the last City Council and first they got former City Manager Mitch Johnson moved off the dais and then they got him fired.
Because they didn't have the mayor on their side, some of the votes they won had no effect. The vote to have attorney Seth Cohen of Smith James Rowlett & Cohen come explain what the infamous "black book" really contained was never carried out by Yvonne Johnson and city staff. The majority voted to do it but Cohen was never called and never came to explain that the black book was much more than just some pictures, it was a case file over an inch thick.
In 2009 the people elected a far more conservative City Council led by a far more conservative mayor. What makes it even more interesting is that the left wing of this council is being run by Perkins, who is a Republican.