Business Meeting Recap: 6.19.18

Written on 7.3.18

Greensboro City Council’s most recent business meeting, on June 19, 2018, was among the most important Council meetings this year.  While there was disappointing inactivity on one front – the aggressive solicitation ordinance – there was real progress on another – the City budget.  Here are some of the highlights of the meeting:

  • Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance.

Surprisingly, the Greensboro Council continues to be unable to enact a simple ordinance which would protect citizens from being harassed aggressively by persons soliciting them from money, leaving Greensboro as one of the few major cities in the State to not afford such protection.

On April 24, 2018, the Council repealed its expansive and longstanding panhandling ordinance because of concerns about whether a court in our area of the country would now deem the ordinance problematic given a recent Supreme Court case on sign ordinances, Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  On the advice of the City Attorney’s Office and the Police Department, the Council initially replaced the ordinance with a much more narrowly tailored “aggressive solicitation ordinance.”  The replacement ordinance prohibits certain aggressive acts during solicitation of all forms (including, but not limited to, panhandling), but allows non-aggressive solicitation without any restrictions of any kind.  A summary of the April 24 meeting can be found here.  A summary of the ordinance can be found here.

At the Council’s May 15, 2018 meeting, however, a Councilperson in the majority changed her vote for political reasons – in protest of the Council adopting a policy that gives local businesses a real, but modest preference for certain contracts for providing goods and services to the City.  While the aggressive solicitation ordinance nevertheless passed with a 5-4 majority vote, the ordinance had to come before the Council yet again because it did not pass with a supermajority vote.  A summary of the May 15 meeting can be found here.

Disappointingly, and despite the prior statements of several Councilpersons regarding their desire to adopt the ordinance as soon as possible, the ordinance was not on the agenda for the Council’s June 19, 2018 meeting.  Thus, near the end of the meeting, I made a motion for the Council to adopt the ordinance.  In immediate response, another Councilperson made a motion to postpone the vote on adoption of the ordinance until July 24, 2018.

Councilpersons who spoke in support of postponement generally: (1) commented on the reasons they believed the City should not adopt the ordinance; (2) stated their desire to speak with the outside law firm the City engaged to advise the City on the topic; or (3) indicated they wanted the City to have more public meetings on the ordinance.

I (and two other Councilpersons) respectfully disagreed with those arguments, collectively noting: (1) the Council has developed a very bad habit of kicking the can on various topics; (2) over the past two months, Councilpersons have had many opportunities to speak (in both public and private) with the outside law firm the City engaged; (3) over several months, the City already has had many public hearings and discussions on the topic; (4) it should not take further community input to come to the common sense conclusion that harassment should not be allowed; (5) the ordinance, which the City Council has already passed twice, is constitutional according to the City Attorney; and (6) the ordinance is substantively identical (or less stringent) than the ordinances of other cities in North Carolina.  See the ordinances of Charlotte, Asheville, Durham, Winston-Salem, Wilmington, NC, Burlington, NC, Mebane, NC (which adopted its ordinance in August 2016, after the Reed decision), and Fayetteville, NC (which adopted its ordinance this past March, after the Reed decision).

However, despite my and others’ best efforts to get the Council to simply make a decision (whether that be to adopt or not adopt the ordinance) and let the City move on, the motion to postpone the matter passed.

The Council’s failure to act is disappointing given: (1) horrible recent anecdotal reports, such as the one here, of (a) harassment of solicited persons and businesses and (b) increased aggressive solicitation since the Council repealed (but did not replace) its long existing panhandling ordinance; and (2) reports that indicate the ability of other city councils to adopt similar ordinances much more swiftly and with less controversy.  See the article here (regarding the Columbus City Council adopting a similar ordinance about the same time Greensboro City Council kicked the can).

With the passage of the motion to postpone, the Council will take up the issue again on July 24, 2018.

  • The Budget.

On a much more positive note, Greensboro City Council approved the City’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget.  Of particular note:

Size of the budget. The City’s approved budget is $543.5 million.

Budget composition. 52% of the budget is for infrastructure; 27% for public safety; 8% for community services; 8% for general government; and 5% for debt service.

$15 minimum wage. Ahead of schedule, all benefitted City employees will earn a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The budget also includes funding for an average three percent merit increase for eligible City employees.

Money for community groups. An additional $1.3 million will be provided directly to certain community groups. This represents only a portion of the total amount of City dollars provided to community groups, as many groups receive funds through departmental expenditures.

Economic development and new jobs. The budget includes economic development incentive payments to Charles Aris, HAECO, and Ecolab for industry expansion projects that will create at least 581 new jobs and capital investment of $95.6 million.  Incentive payments will also be made to Self Help Ventures to support the redevelopment of Revolution Mill, which has supported a capital investment of more than $85 million.  Further, although Greensboro has not yet been selected for the project, the City Council has approved economic development incentive support for a Publix regional distribution and manufacturing center, with an estimated investment of $400 million and at least 1,000 new jobs.

No increase in the effective property tax rate. As it has since 2010, the effective property tax rate will stay at 63.25 cents per $100 of the assessed value of real property.

* * * *

Greensboro City Council’s next business meeting will be on July 17, 2018.  The updated homepage of this website, which can be found here, lists the next several Council meetings under “Upcoming Events.”