During my campaign to be elected as an At Large member of the Greensboro City Council I have had the opportunity to share the stage during several candidate forums held throughout the city. Several issues have consistently been brought up and several "themes" have emerged from the incumbents. I would like to reveal and address some of those for your consideration as you prepare to go to the polls.
I was asked by News-Record reporters if I believed I "was running as a challenger against a team"? Apparently, the perception is there. The word "YES" came out before his period went silent. Mayor Vaughn and members of the current council are laying it on thick about how wonderful their council is, what they have accomplished as a team and how great it would be if they all stayed together. To be fair, Council members Yvonne Johnson, Mike Barber and Tony Wilkins have not actively participated in the "pep rallies" but you have to look no further than the Mayor's self proclaimed selfie campaign on Facebook to see who does. During the Folk Festival she even managed to get 6 council members in one selfie. We hear statements during forums such as "I echo what the Mayor said" or "I agree with the Mayor" from these 6 incumbents offering virtually no new ideas of their own. I have stated earlier that I believe all 9 council positions should have leadership qualities; we are at least 4 short. There also have been questions about conflicts of interest when choosing committees or commissions such as zoning, building, etc. While the incumbents state they are addressing that issue and point to stronger vetting of each candidate, I think the voting public might trust them better to do so if they could eliminate the conflicts of interest that exist on the council itself! We certainly don't want the appearance of "cronyism" now do we?
Speaking of keeping the status quo issues that have them rooting hard for each other, some of those are;
Defending the lawsuit against the state
Mayor Vaughn claims that a mandate exists among Greensboro citizens to fight Raleigh telling them how to run our local government. A mandate from who? The 8-1 super majority of the council? Their supporters? How would we know if a mandate exists when the only folks speaking against it are the same ones that show up every council meeting? Who polled the other 275,000 citizens of Greensboro? Yet we continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer's money to fight something the NC Legislature by law has the AUTHORITY to do.
Why would a huge city developer that is a registered republican endorse and campaign for 8 democrats to retain their seats on City Council? Maybe he has the council just the way he wants it? Just maybe?
There is lots of talk from the incumbents about how much money the council has invested in east Greensboro. There is an equally strong perception among east Greensboro residents that the council has done nothing. Why the disconnect? What I have observed from these forums is that the members of council don't quite want to admit what the underlying issue is in east Greensboro; perception. Until the perception of high crime and total poverty is eradicated business owners are going to continue to be hesitant to invest in the area. When I have pointed out the reason east Greensboro has food deserts (theft, vandalism, unappealing store fronts) and suggested partnering with GPD to help protect store owners assets, the reaction has been the same; head nods in the crowd and refusal to even address it from the podium. If you cannot admit what the problem is then throwing money at the side effects of the problem won't work. The money "poured" into east Greensboro has made for some pretty side walks and green ways but the folks cannot eat or spend those. Of course, the old leadership in that area (aka those who talk the loudest) doesn't want the police to approach anyone so we have a bit of a stalemate. There are newer, younger leaders in east Greensboro that do not share the views of the elders that are reluctant to butt heads for fear of persecution. It's time to bring those younger leaders out into the sunlight, make them active and defend them against old rhetoric.
The lack of understanding of criminal law and procedures on this council is scary; or they just ignore it politically. Body worn cameras are a good tool and for the most part give a clearer picture as to what actually happened on a call. They also give officers one more thing to think about going onto a crime scene and in my opinion can create a bit of an officer safety issue by the means of a slight distraction; "got to remember to turn my camera on". I've heard incumbents talking about the public should be able to see these videos and that "officers should be punished severely if they don't turn them on" but not one of them has any insight whatsoever into the job. Most of the incumbents are quick to take a side with their neighborhood leaders (aka those who talk the loudest) only to be surprised when the outcome of the investigation goes the other way (heard that one before, haven't we). Most of the incumbents also seem to not understand that police officers are citizens as well, having the same guaranteed Constitutional Rights as all other citizens.
Issues regarding confidentiality of evidence and criminal case details are also apparently not understood by most council members. Courtroom procedures regarding "discovery" of evidence by suspects seem to be ignored when speaking of a citizen's ability to view footage. Shouldn't a sitting council member at least try to educate themselves before they speak out; or is the need to appease certain activists (aka those who talk the loudest) for the purposes of political favor too overwhelming for them?
The recent New York times article had one incumbent "shocked" and "appalled" at what the article said. Newsflash; the New York Times isn't exactly a bastion of journalistic integrity. The article uses statistics to the "point" that they were able to arrive at their desired "conclusion". However, they did not go deeper into those stats with regard to types of stops; investigative, interrogative, identification, equipment violations or any other justified stops that would not generate an arrest. This lack of investigation led to an article loaded with subjective opinions by a New York writer that couldn't seem to find anything police related to write about in New York. When explaining this to audiences most all of the citizens seemed receptive to the explanation. If this council is going to continue to involve itself in Greensboro Police business they need someone on the council that can explain police procedure and criminal law to them and stop reacting "dramatically" just to satisfy what you think your constituents want to hear.
When the democratic candidates attended the Young Democrats forum they were apparently questioned at length about the concentration of efforts in downtown building. Since that forum, the incumbents in general and the Mayor in particular have been aggressive in addressing that issue before it is brought up; "I know it seems we have been spending most of our money in building up downtown but we really haven't". The residents are telling me after the forums that they aren't buying it. It's tough to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. The Mayor is now saying that "the city needs to get out of the developers way and let downtown grow". Too bad we didn't decide that until we dumped money into the advertised private venture that is to be the "Tanger" Triad Performing Arts Center, a facility that is likely to be frequented by less than 10% of Greensboro residents. We haven't even mentioned the state of flux DGI is currently going through and no incumbent has even brought it up. They are fortunate they haven't had to address it in a question from the forum attendees.
It has been pointed out that Greensboro's tax rate has not increased in 2 years. With the exception of one study, Greensboro still has the highest tax rate of the five major cities in the state. We also have;
A 20% poverty rate, second only to Durham
A 14% food stamp usage, highest in the state
Over 6% unemployment that does not include those no longer "looking", highest among the five largest cities.
Greensboro has also been cited by several studies and publications as being the most difficult city to deal with for prospective new and existing businesses; not exactly a recipe for increasing jobs and economic growth.
Mayor Vaughn stated that she believes that Greensboro is about "ready to explode" with regards to growth and economic good fortune. These numbers look closer to Greensboro imploding to me.
The choice is yours Greensboro; status quo or a change in direction. Even one new face and voice will make a difference.