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Rhino Times - 2016-07-28
Magazines / Newspapers | Government 2016-07-28 00:05:10
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    Vol. IV No. 30 Greensboro, North Carolina www.rhinotimes.com Thursday, July 28, 2016 CITY BONDS HEAVY ON HOUSING Scott D. Yost NC ‘NOT SO’ FAST plus Under The Hammer, Uncle Orson Reviews Everything AND MORE

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    2 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | www.rhinotimes.com THE WEEKLY Hammer by John Hammer Editor The Greensboro City Council has scheduled a meeting for 3 p.m. on Monday, August 1 in the Council Chambers to deal with Sit-In Movement Inc. loan of $1.5 million, which, according to the contract, the Sit-In Movement was supposed to start paying back on June 30 if it had not raised sufficient funds to offset the first loan payment of $750,000. According to the agreement, the City Likely to Give Sit-In Museum a Break city will forgive $1 of the loan for every $1 the International Civil Rights Center and Museum raised outside its normal course of business. The idea behind that language on the loan was that the sit-in museum, in order to be financially viable, needed to do some additional fundraising and this was supposed to provide some incentive. It gave the museum a good fundraising pitch. People like to see their money matched when they make donations. To be able and go out and tell people that for every dollar donated to the museum, the City of Greensboro would in effect donate a matching dollar is a strong sales pitch. However, the museum didn’t raise the $1.5 million that it needed to get the debt erased entirely. The sit-in museum claims it raised about $1.3 million and the city auditors found that only $612,000 should be considered as per the terms of the contract. The city auditors disallowed a $100,000 donation from Carolina Bank in the form of reducing the amount of principal owed to the bank because there was no documentation. The museum has since provided a letter from Carolina Bank, so that discrepancy should be taken care of in the museum’s favor, raising the amount the city accepts to $712,000, but still leaving a lot of room between the two. The city auditors went over the moneys that the museum claimed it raised outside its course of business and the city and the museum have some disagreements about how the terms of the contract should be applied. The big fly in the ointment is not whether or not the $11,000 put in the donation box at the museum counts as in the “normal course of business” or not, or whether chairs for an event where the rental agency waived the charge is a donation that counts. The big question is whether the $456,000 the museum made on investing the money in its accounts is considered outside the normal course of business. Doug Harris, who is on the museum board of directors and also does legal work for the museum, in a letter to the city, stated that the museum is not in the business of investing money, therefore the interest income is outside the normal course of business and should be counted as a donation. This was clearly not the intent of the contract forgiving a dollar for each additional dollar raised, at least not the city’s intent. Whether Harris is correct from a legal standpoint or not is, as he says, not something for the accountants to decide. The truth of the matter is that the Greensboro City Council is most likely going to eventually forgive the loan to Sit-In Movement Inc. The City Council backed itself into a corner when it forgave the loan of $1.2 million to the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship and it can’t turn around and say that the sit-in museum has to repay a similar loan made under similar circumstances. Politics in Greensboro is extremely racial. The Nussbaum Center is a predominately white organization, the sit-in museum is predominantly black. Former City Councilmember and sit-in museum co-founder Earl Jones has previously stated that the loan to the sit-in museum should be forgiven just like the one for the Nussbaum Center. Besides, what is the argument against forgiving the loan? That the City Council likes the Nussbaum Center more than the museum, or that it causes less trouble? Once the City Council sets a precedent like forgiving a large loan to a nonprofit, it is difficult to go back. At the time the loan to the sit-in museum was made, some of those involved said that the museum would never repay the loan. It would have been a huge help to the City Council, if the museum had actually gone out and raised $1.5 million from Sept. 3, 2013 to July 1, 2015, but that didn’t happen; or at least it didn’t happen according to the city. The city has several reasons for forgiving the loan. One is that the city is rolling in money. The last year for which audit figures are available, 2014-2015, the city took in $15 million more in revenue than was budgeted. The city, as it should, always underestimates revenue and overestimates expenses, but $15 million is a lot of underestimating; it represents over 6 cents on the property tax rate. Where did the money go? It went here and there. It was spread out amongst the departments and fund balances. The economy is improving and the city is receiving more revenue from new taxes and revenue sources provided by the state. The city has so much money in its water and sewer fund that it is using some of it to repave streets. So the city doesn’t need the money from the sit-in museum and the sitin museum desperately needs the money. According to its own audit, the Sit-In Museum is not a financially sustainable operation. Most likely the City Council will find away to credit the museum with enough donations to get past the first payment, which was due on June 30, and will leave the other amounts to deal with later. Or the City Council could decide to take the bull by the horns and declare that the sit-in museum substantially met its fund raising goals as outlined in the contract with the city and the remainder of the loan will be forgiven. The second option would be much cleaner, but this City Council has shown a propensity for dragging out issues for as long as possible. The smart money is betting that the museum doesn’t repay a penny of the loan, however the details are worked out.

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | RHINO TIMES 3

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    4 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | www.rhinotimes.com RRRRR HINOSHORTS Jeff “Grits” Gauger is the new executive editor of The Wyndham Championship golf tournament will be here before you know it. Everything kicks off on Monday, August 15 and the fi rst round of the tournament begins on Thursday, August 18. The Wyndham is continuing to beef up its proam events, with the Kevin Harvick Foundation Pro- Am on Monday and the Louis DeJoy and Aldona Z. Wos Family Foundation Pro Am on Wednesday. It’s a great opportunity to watch the pros in a more relaxed environment, as well as see some celebrities. The Times in Shreveport, Louisiana. Grits earned his nickname by writing repeatedly about grits after moving to North Carolina from Ohio. I imagine he’s gotten that out of his system, but Gumbo Gauger has a nice ring to it. The Times is a Gannet newspaper, and in 2014, the last year in which I could fi nd circulation fi gures for both newspapers, had a daily circulation of 37,000 while the News & Record’s circulation was 49,000. When I was assured that Gauger had resigned of his own accord, I assumed he had a chance to get out of the newspaper business and jumped at it, but it seems that wasn’t the case. Now Gauger will be right back in the crunch of putting out a newspaper 365 days a year, except for leap years, and then it’s 366. We wish him luck. sovereign close enough for spell check to recognize what word I was trying to use. I know the word sovereign and use it not infrequently but had no idea how to spell it, except that I knew it wasn’t spelled how it sounds, which is not that unusual for words in English. I’m hoping that now that I have typed sovereign a few times, if my brain doesn’t remember, my fi ngers will. I don’t expect to get it right, just close enough for spell check to take over. After I conquer sovereign I’m going to take on lieutenant. The Carroll Companies and Bee Safe Storage & Wine Cellar are partnering with the Wyndham Championship to provide free Wyndham tickets for fi rst responders. Free tickets will be provided to those who provide identifi cation certifying they are indeed a fi rst responder at will-call or on the course. Look for more information about this in the Rhino Times next week. Thursday, July 28 from 6 to 8, enjoy networking, hors d’oeuvres and wine and beer at the Rhino Times Schmoozefest while seeing the latest home trends and getting renovation ideas at the design showroom of BMC (formerly Stock Building Supply and before that Guilford Builders Supply)at 1621 Battleground Ave. The event is free to business professionals who sign in and wear a name tag. Deep Roots Market on Eugene Street has discovered the “if you build it they will come” theory doesn’t work with grocery stores. They are looking for ways to increase business. Here’s a simple one: Use a business plan similar to Scuppernong Books. Put a long bar near the front of the store and make it a gathering place. There is a lot more profi t in selling alcohol than there is in selling organic hydroponic arugula, or whatever. Scuppernong Books seems to be doing pretty well and there are a lot of similarities. Scuppernong doesn’t have room for a wide selection of books, but it appears they work at providing what their clientele want in stocking their shelves. Deep Roots wants to just sell a select set of items, which means if you’re going to the grocery store and go to Deep Roots, most people have to make two stops, which some people are willing to do, but it will always limit their appeal. Deep Roots should at least consider adding a large bar and a small kitchen. With Preyer Brewing Company and Joymongers in the same area, it would fi t right in. I hate to admit it but I’ve watched more of the Democratic National Convention than I did of the Republican National Convention. The Republican convention was kind of boring. Sen. Ted Cruz becoming a caricature of himself was interesting, and the Trump family was great, but the Democratic convention has controversy every night, and if things get boring inside, the folks outside appear to be at near riot stage. And we were told this was going to be the calm, boring convention. It’s diffi cult not to write something about the heat, so I’m not going to resist the temptation. I spent the weekend outdoors and couldn’t help but wonder what some of my ancestors were thinking when they moved to North Carolina in the 1700s when there not only wasn’t any air conditioning, there weren’t any fans and they cooked on wood stoves. I think in that case I would have just eaten food straight out of the refrigerator, or at most used the microwave to heat stuff up. But then when I think about it, I grew up in a house without central air conditioning, and the schools I attended weren’t air conditioned. When I went to Page High School, one classroom wing was air conditioned, and I don’t remember complaining much more about the heat then than now. I deal with the written word all the time, but there is some cog in my head that is missing a couple of teeth. This week I discovered I couldn’t spell Chris Rees, The Sound of the Beep’s Independent Thinker, in the Queen’s Arcade in Leeds, England. Send your Rhinos Around the World to letters@ rhinotimes.com or to PO Box 9023, Greensboro 27429.

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | RHINO TIMES 5 McCrory Blasts Dem Emails by John Hammer The leak of emails from Democratic National Committee (DNC) by WikiLeaks has spawned a great deal of anger at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, but it has led to some strong words a lot closer to home. The emails show that the DNC members, including those in North Carolina, were excited when boycotts of the state were announced after the passage of House Bill 2, aka the bathroom bill. Gov. Pat McCrory said that the emails proved something they have suspected for a long time – that the Democratic Party was stirring up a lot of the controversy about the bill. McCrory said, “What’s most disturbing is that these emails have clearly shown something we suspected all along, that is that the State of North Carolina, the City of Charlotte and especially small businesses were used as a pawn by Roy Cooper, the mayor of Charlotte and by the Democratic Party on an issue that was made up purely for political purposes and to raise money, big money at that ... and that is inexcusable, absolutely inexcusable.” McCrory added, “They’ve raised money on the issue, they created the issue, they raised money and then they cheered, literally cheered, when businesses would boycott our great state, or entertainers would boycott.” McCrory continued, “They put their political aspirations ahead of our state of North Carolina and that’s extremely discouraging.” The Democrats did create the issue when the Democrats on the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance requiring all restrooms and shower facilities open to the public, including those of private businesses, be gender neutral. The state legislature then met in a special session to pass HB2, which requires people to use the public bathrooms and shower facilities in public buildings consistent with the sex on their birth certificate. The state law makes no requirement regarding bathroom usage for private companies, which are free to have gender-neutral bathrooms if they so desire. Donations to the Democratic candidate for governor, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, do show some interesting connections to the whole HB2 controversy. The CEO of Lambda Legal, which is one of the parties suing North Carolina over HB2, a lawsuit in which Cooper has been ambivalent about representing the state, has donated to the Cooper campaign. Also donating is former National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern. The NBA recently announced that it would not be playing the All-Star Game in Charlotte as previously announced because of HB2. Stern didn’t make that decision, but you would think he would have some influence with the NBA. McCrory contends that the Democrats, including Cooper, are using this issue to raise money nationally despite the fact that the boycotts are hurting the state in general and Charlotte in particular. The North Carolina Democratic Party did send out emails about how much the boycotts were costing the state and received responses like, “Awesome,” “good work” and “This is great” in response. But McCrory didn’t escape criticism in the emails either. One email referred to McCrory as a “moronic little bigot of a tarheel (sic) governor.” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gets routinely criticized in the press for being over the top with his statements about other people, but it seems he’s not the only one making those statements this year.

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    6 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | www.rhinotimes.com City Forgot Why It Won’t table of CONTENTS Pay Chief Wray by John Hammer The current status of the lawsuit former Greensboro Police Chief David Wray has against the City of Greensboro for $220,000 in legal fees reminds me of the old story about Momma, the matriarch of a large family, who cuts the small end of a pot roast off before cooking it. Momma is a great cook, so all of her daughters cook a pot roast exactly the same way and all of their daughters follow suit, cutting off the small end. But one of the great granddaughters asked why they cut off the end of the pot roast. The women in the family had different theories but broke into two camps, tenderness and taste. Finally, they asked Momma, and she said it was because the pot she used when she fi rst got married wasn’t quite big enough, so she got in the habit of cutting off the end. That’s where the Greensboro City Council is right now with Wray. The City Council continues to refuse to pay the $220,000 in legal expenses Wray has racked up in lawsuits based on his time as police chief, but it’s not sure why. However, the city has spent over $457,000 defending itself against the lawsuit that Wray fi led to get his legal expenses paid in accordance with the city policy. Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided in Wray’s favor on the city’s claim of sovereign immunity in the case. So now the city is left with the decision on whether to appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court and continue to run up the legal tab, or reach an agreement with Wray and be done with the legal fees defending itself against a lawsuit that nobody seems to remember why they got into in the fi rst place. Both City Attorney Tom Carruthers and Mayor Nancy Vaughan recently used the term “malicious” when describing why Wray’s legal fees were not paid. Vaughan said she was quoting Carruthers and Carruthers explained to the City Council last week that he was using shorthand for the city policy and it was a poor choice of words, that what he should have said was that Wray’s actions were not covered by the policy. But Vaughan clearly thought that the city was accusing Wray of acting in a “malicious manner” or she wouldn’t have quoted him. City Councilmember Mike Barber, who was on the City Council when the decision was made not to pay Wray’s legal expenses, said that the reason given at the time was that Wray’s activities were outside the scope of his employment, but that no one mentioned “malicious” behavior as a reason for not paying his legal fees when the original decision was made. So perhaps not everyone has forgotten, or maybe in this story Barber is “Momma.” Barber is now in favor of settling Wray’s lawsuit and moving on. Wray resigned as police chief amid a great deal of controversy over 10 years ago, and a previous City Council decided not to pay Wray’s legal fees even though the city has had a policy in place since 1980 to pay the legal fees for employees sued because of their work activities. That previous City Council was really upset with Wray because they believed then City Manager Mitch Johnson, who kept telling them about all these terrible things that Wray had done, which certainly implied he was a racist. Under Wray’s direction the Police Department supposedly had a black book with the photos of all the black police offi cers. According to Risk Management Associates, the consulting group that investigated the Police Department for Johnson and fi led the infamous RMA report, the black book was shown to “every prostitute, every junkie, just about anybody in Greensboro or Guilford (continued on page 9) 2 WEEKLY HAMMER BY JOHN HAMMER 5 MCCRORY BLASTS DEM EMAILS BY JOHN HAMMER 6 CITY FORGOT WHY IT WON’T PAY CHIEF WRAY BY JOHN HAMMER 7 COUNTY CITIZENS CAN SHOOT TARGETS, NOT VIDEO CHARACTERS BY SCOTT D. YOST 12 8 CITY BONDS HEAVY ON HOUSING BY JOHN HAMMER 10 NC FAST NOT AS SLOW AS IT WAS, SAY SUPPORTERS BY SCOTT D. YOST 13 UNCLE ORSON BY ORSON SCOTT CARD 25 YOST COLUMN BY SCOTT D. YOST 35 UNDER THE HAMMER BY JOHN HAMMER 4 RHINO SHORTS 4 RHINOS AROUND WORLD 15 REAL ESTATE 17 PUZZLE ANSWERS 19 SUDOKU 20 NYT CROSSWORD 22 CHILDREN’S SCHEDULE 23 THE SOUND OF THE BEEP 29 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 34 EDITORIAL CARTOON Cover: The LeBauer City Park ribbon cutting is scheduled for Monday, August 8, and we thought you might like a bird’s eye view of the new downtown park on Davie Street. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF John Hammer managing editor ELAINE HAMMER county editor SCOTT D. YOST contributing editor ORSON SCOTT CARD cartoonist GEOF BROOKS PUBLISHER Roy Carroll GENERAL MANAGER Joann Zollo creative director ANTHONY COUNCIL advertising consultants MICK HAYWOOD TYE SINGLETON 216 West Market Street, Greensboro NC 27401 P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro NC 27429 | (336) 763-4170 (continued on page 11) (336) 763-2585 fax | sales@rhinotimes.com (continued | www.rhinotimes.com on page 12) (continued on page 9)

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    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | RHINO TIMES 7 County Citizens Can Shoot Targets, Not Video Characters by Scott D. Yost Guilford County get your gun. Details are starting to surface about a new Guilford County program meant to elevate the safety of county citizens by focusing on proper gun use, marksmanship, situational awareness and the best ways to deal with the threats that seem more and more prevalent in today’s society. The classes, led by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department, will start in September as part of a Guilford County government program that is perhaps unique in the country. That program will use a new simulator – one that’s normally used to train law enforcement offi cers – to teach citizens in the safe and proper use of fi rearms. The classes will also teach gun laws and instruct citizens on things such as when to notify law enforcement instead of taking matters into their own hands. The unique program is the brainchild of Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, who made his idea known earlier this year when he started the process that’s now bringing the county the new training program. Phillips said that, after the San Bernardino terror attacks last December in which more than a dozen people were killed, he began trying to think of ways county offi cials and citizens could be more proactive in keeping society safer. Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said this week that some details are still being worked out but that the new program will be up and running in September. “It will focus on safe handling of your gun and we’ll also be doing some target training,” Barnes said. He said that training will include “dry fi re” using the new simulator, but not “real fi re” at the shooting range. In early discussions, county offi cials considered having part of the instruction take place with real guns at the Sheriff’s Department’s shooting range near the Guilford County Prison Farm in eastern Guilford County. Barnes said there will also be an emphasis on gun laws and concealed carry laws because there have been some important changes in recent years that many citizens may not be aware of. Plans call for the classes to take place in a large conference room in the Sheriff’s Department in the Otto Zenke building at 400 W. Washington St. in Greensboro. Barnes said that, due to everything that is happening now in society, this is a time when public safety awareness is critically important, and he added that, these days especially, that goes not just for citizens but also for his offi cers as well. “I worry every time these guys get a call,” Barnes said. Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Ken Whitesell said the new fi rearms training simulator the county bought earlier this year will be delivered in two or three weeks. One thing that will be a disappointment to some is that, while program planners have decided to use the machine for target practice, citizens won’t be able to go through the real action scenarios. In one mode, that simulator allows users to sharpen their decision-making skills by generating real-life scenarios in which people are presented with threats or non-threats, and trained when – and when not – to pull the trigger. Sheriff’s deputies will still train using those video-presented situations to train offi cers, however citizens will not. “We probably won’t use on-screen scenarios,” Whitesell said of the new classes. Whitesell said use of real life scenarios with machine became controversial after Commissioner Ray Trapp raised some concerns earlier this year and everyone involved decided it would be best just not to go there. At a Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting in March, Trapp stated that he was concerned the video-based simulator tends to have an excess of minority villains; and he argued that use of the simulator might promote vigilantism in Guilford County. Whitesell said the new course will also offer training in helping people decide when it makes sense to call and wait for help and be “the best eyes and witness” for the Sheriff’s Department, rather than take action themselves. He said that ideally the classes could be moved to a permanent location like the old jail in downtown Greensboro where the machine might be set up permanently. That would keep sheriff’s staff from having to break down and remove it after each training session. Phillips said he had met recently with other county offi cials to help work out the details and he said that his hope is that the program will help make citizens safer. “I’m excited about that,” he said.

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    8 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | www.rhinotimes.com City Bonds Heavy On Housing by John Hammer The City Council usually meets on Tuesday, but this week’s meeting is Monday, August 1 at 5:30 p.m. and provides the citizens of Greensboro with their only opportunity to weigh in on the bond referendum before it is put on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election. This City Council prides itself on transparency, but the entire bond referendum process could not have been more opaque. Most of the discussions that led up to the current $126 million in proposed bonds took place in secret. The meetings to come up with the initial bond package were held behind locked doors without public knowledge. When information about the status of the proposed bond package, which at that point was hovering in the $200 million range was leaked to the Rhino Times, Mayor Nancy Vaughan was upset with the paper and the leaker. She said the bond was going to be about $100 million. But when a meeting on the bonds open to the public was held, that $100 million soared to $178.6 million. It was only at the final meeting that it was brought back down to the current $126 million. Vaughan did say this week that it is higher than she would like, and the City Council may “tweak” a couple numbers on Monday, but she doesn’t expect any major changes. This is not a bond about needs but about wants, and some of the projects the City Council wants are hard to believe. The City Council began in January discussing about $40 million in bonds because that could be financed without raising taxes, and the city still has $60 million in bonds passed in 2006, 2008 and 2009 that have not been sold. But when the councilmembers got behind closed doors with no one watching or listening, they decided they wanted much more money to spread around, mainly in east Greensboro, and most of the bond money, if it is spent on the projects on the list – which is a big if – will be spent in east Greensboro. If you live in District 5 represented by the lone Republican on the City Council, Tony Wilkins, you may get some pocket change but not much more. The $126 million bond will, according to the Finance Department, need a 3.35 cent tax increase to finance it. That would raise the property tax rate in Greensboro from 63.25 cents to 66.55 cents. Considering the fact that Greensboro already has the highest property tax rate of any comparable city in the state, raising taxes isn’t going to make recruiting new industry any easier, nor provide any relief for property owners facing stagnate wages. The only legal requirement on spending the bond money is that it meet the language on the ballot on Nov. 8. So any talk of specific projects indicates how the City Council currently plans to spend the money, not how it will spend the money. For example, the city has a long list of parks and recreation projects with amounts. Most if not all of the projects have not been engineered or designed, so the amount is the best guess of what it will cost. But more importantly, the City Council is under no legal obligation to do a single project on the list. The council could decide to spend the entire $40 million on some new project that hasn’t been mentioned. Judging from past behavior they could decide to spend the money on a new project at the Greensboro Coliseum; if there were five votes to do it. What is more likely is that some project costs will run higher than expected, so other projects will be eliminated. It is also possible, but not likely, that projects will come in under budget, so new projects would be added that no one ever mentioned during the bond process. The same is true for all four bond categories. One project that is hard to believe is that the city plans to put $8 million of the $25 million housing bond into a “work force housing Initiative” to help middle income people buy and fix up their homes. It is the single largest item in the $25 million housing bond. A single person or a couple that has an income of $54,000 will qualify for this program, as will a family of four with an income of $79,000. Increasing property taxes on all property owners in Greensboro to help those in poverty have safe affordable places to live seems appropriate. Helping middle class people buy bigger and newer houses than they could afford without government assistance doesn’t. However, it does appear that several members of the City Council may qualify for this program, so that might explain why it’s included. The other categories in the housing bond are code compliance repair initiative, east Greensboro housing development, handicapped accessibility and housing for special populations, supportive housing units for homeless/disabled/veterans, nonprofit homebuyer lending, emergency repair programs, multifamily repair programs and homeowner rehabilitation. A nonprofit homebuyer lending program is what got Greensboro involved in the whole Project Homestead mess. And for those with long memories, before Project Homestead, the Greensboro Episcopal Housing Ministry also went under trying to do the same thing. Never let it be said that Greensboro learns from its mistakes. The housing bond money will be used for rental units as well as owneroccupied homes. So some multifamily property owners who have let their property deteriorate could greatly benefit. Although that’s it under the housing bond portion of the bond referendum, that’s not it for housing in the overall bond package. In the $38.5 community development bond, there is $1.5 million for mixed-income rental housing on the Union Square redevelopment site. There is also $2 million for mixed-income housing in the Ole Asheboro Street Neighborhood along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and $1 million for low and moderateincome single-family housing in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood. So although there is a $25 million housing bond, there is another $4.5 for housing under community development. It’s a lot of money for housing. Also under community development there is $4 million for “small infill development” projects, and nobody seems to know how this money will be spent. Or, to put it more accurately, you get different answers from different people on what this money is for. It (continued on next page)

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    Page 9

    www.rhinotimes.com | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | RHINO TIMES 9 bonds (continued from previous page) seems to fall under the definition of mad money, since any development currently inside the city limits can be considered infill development. Along with housing being found under two categories, an even more interesting aspect is that streetscape for the Union Square project at Gate City Boulevard and Arlington Street is also in two line items under community development. There is $4 million for streetscape for Union Square and under the $25 million for downtown infrastructure improvements there is an item for Gate City Boulevard from Eugene Street to Arlington Street listed. The downtown projects have no cost estimates, but surely the city is not going to have two different streetscape projects, funded out of different pots of money and designed by different groups, going on at the same time in the same place. The $25 million for downtown infrastructure improvements appears to be optimistic. It includes Elm Street from Fisher Avenue to Gate City Boulevard, Davie Street from Friendly Avenue to McGee Street, Church Street from Lindsay Street to Washington Street, Bellemeade Street from Edgeworth to North Elm Street, and Summit Avenue from Davie Street to Murrow Boulevard. Considering the city plans to spend at least $4 million on the block in front of Union Square, the idea that they are going to be able to streetscape all those other streets for a total of $25 million indicates one of those figures is way off. The plan includes 11 blocks of Elm Street alone. So if it costs $4 million to streetscape one block, doing Elm Street would cost $44 million. This is not a well-thought-out bond package. When the City Council cut it from $178.6 million to $126 million, they mainly sliced and diced, cutting some from this project and some from that, with little discussion in public of how that would affect the projects. There was, for instance, some support on the City Council for cutting the money for the downtown from $25 million to $20 million, but no discussion of what projects would be eliminated. The discussion included statements like, “I’d be more comfortable at 20.” But evidently more councilmembers were comfortable at $25 million, for whatever that’s worth. The parks and recreation bond was cut from $40 million to $32.5 million and this actually did make some sense. When Councilmember Justin Outling found out that the combination of the Windsor Recreation Center and the Vance Chavis Library into one facility slated for $8.5 million would not take place until 2021, he said the city didn’t need to be selling bonds in 2016 for a project five years down the road. Outling settled for cutting $6.5 million from that line item, leaving $2 million for planning. The City Council also reduced the Barber Park and Gateway Gardens completion from $5.5 million to $4.5 million. The downtown Greenway completion is under the parks and rec bond for $7 million. This is a project that has been in the works for 15 years and less than a mile has been completed. There is also $7 million to connect the Atlantic and Yadkin Greenway to the downtown Greenway. The now abandoned Atlantic and Yadkin railroad tracks run along Battleground Avenue and between Battleground Avenue and Lawndale Drive. It will provide a walking and biking trail from northern Greensboro into the downtown. Community tennis courts get $3 million, and $5 million is slated for creating a Battleground Parks District to unite Country Park, the Greensboro Science Center and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park with other city facilities in the area into one park district. Greensboro voters historically approve parks and recreation bonds. So it wouldn’t be wise to bet against this one. According to City Councilmember Mike Barber, the bond that everyone is going to vote for is the $30 million for sidewalks, intersections, transit and street resurfacing. This includes $20 million for street resurfacing and $10 million for sidewalks, intersection improvement and transit. The bond language is supposed to be written so that money can also be used to purchase buses, which gives a good indication of just how loose the language on these bonds is. Barber fought hard to get the $20 million for resurfacing streets into the bond package. It wasn’t in at least one of the earlier versions. He also wanted street resurfacing to be a separate bond because he said it would be assured of passing if all the money would be used to fix the streets, which councilmembers hear complaints about frequently. That’s not every single item on the bond package, but really the only figures that matter are the totals: housing $25 million, community and economic development $38.5 million, parks and recreation $32.5 million and sidewalks, intersections, transit and street resurfacing $30 million. And your only chance to speak to the City Council before it votes on what goes on the ballot in November is Monday, August 1 at 5:30 in the Council Chambers at city hall. forgot (continued from page 6) County” to try and dig up information about inappropriate activities by black Greensboro police officers. The City Council was convinced that Wray and members of his command staff were going to be criminally indicted for these activities. The City Council believed Johnson, but most of which he alleged has been proven false. Nobody on the command staff was indicted. The black book turned out to be a lineup book created according to department regulations for one case, and was shown to one witness who did happen to be a prostitute. The FBI investigated the Police Department for civil rights violations and left without any charges. The SBI investigated the Police Department for over a year and finally found a charge that was brought to trial – illegally accessing a government computer – but the charges weren’t against Wray, any member of his command staff or any captain or lieutenant in the department. They were against Police Officer Scott Sanders who was found not guilty. Charges were also filed against Sgt. Tom Fox but were dropped after Sanders was found not guilty. That was all there was to the huge scandal that reportedly was going to send Wray and others to jail: one officer found not guilty of something that doesn’t even sound like a crime. Ten days after Sanders was found not guilty, the City Council fired Johnson. Johnson’s personnel records are confidential, but Councilmember Mary Rakestraw, who called for his (continued on page 14)

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    Page 10

    10 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, July 28, 2016 | www.rhinotimes.com NC FAST Not As Slow As It Was, Say Supporters by Scott D. Yost For years, social services workers across the state have moaned, groaned and pull their hair out over North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology (NC FAST) – the now infamous computing software system used in processing, recording and reporting applications and other documents for social services departments in North Carolina. Now some Guilford County officials are calling for a fix to the problem. In Guilford County government in June, NC FAST problems were a topic of debate in the county’s budget talks. And, earlier this month, during a discussion at a county commissioners meeting, when the question about what could be done to fi x the software came up, one top county offi cial said under his breath, “Take it out and shoot it.” That six-word solution also expresses the feelings of some who work with the system on a daily basis. However, NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) offi cials say they’re committed to the system, and they – along with some in the Guilford County Health and Human Services Department – say that the suggested radical fi x won’t be necessary because the system is improving, bugs are being removed, user training is more extensive and the state and counties using it it are now seeing some positive results from NC FAST. The much-maligned software system was one reason the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted not to fund some new positions requested by Guilford County’s Social Services Division – even though social services offi cials said they were badly needed and the county manager recommended funding those positions. Several commissioners said after the vote that – given problems with the NC FAST software – those new workers would only be able to process a few client applications a day and, therefore, they argued, it wouldn’t do much good to add those new staff. Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue, who was director of Guilford County Emergency Services before taking a seat on the board, said this week that employees must have the right computing system in order to be effective, and he said he has real concerns about NC FAST based on all he’s seen and heard in recent years. “My concern is that it’s keeping staff from being 100 percent,” Perdue said. “These are things we need to look at. Until then, adding more people is just compounding the problem.” Commissioner Ray Trapp, who is the Board of Commissioners’ point man for all things related to social services, said he’s seen enough of NC FAST. “We need to scrap it,” Trapp said. “Everyone knows that. We need to get rid of it.” He said the problems have persisted for years and everyone needs to admit that it was a giant mistake and move forward with a new system. Trapp said he knew that wouldn’t be easy given the commitment the state has made to the software program – and given the general inertia of government. Trapp said so many decisions in Raleigh are political, but he added that he’s a devoted Democrat and that NC FAST was begun under the administration of Democratic NC Gov. Beverly Perdue. “And I’m saying scrap it,” Trapp said. “It shouldn’t be political.” Therefore, he said, the Republicans in power in Raleigh certainly shouldn’t feel any loyalty to the system. Trapp said, “I talk to commissioners from all over the state and every county – and, outside of Health and Human Services, you’ll never fi nd anyone say anything positive about NC FAST. The big question is can we scrap it?” The short answer to Trapp’s question is absolutely not. Guilford County and state DHHS offi cials say the state is 100 percent behind NC FAST, and they point out that the state has spent years moving every county onto the computing system. In fact, the use of NC FAST – now handling food stamps and Medicaid services – will be extended to additional programs in all 100 counties over the next two years. Guilford County Social Services Director Heather Skeens said state offi cials are committed to the program. “It’s my understanding that NC FAST is here to stay,” she said. “At least all the information from the state says that. There’s no indication NC FAST will go anywhere.” Two-and-a-half years ago, before Skeens headed up Guilford County’s Social Services Department – which is now part of a combined Guilford County Health and Human Services Department – workers in the department were having such a hard time entering information into NC FAST that they essentially gave up and started shoving applications into fi le drawers and other out-of-the way places. That plan didn’t work too well because each unprocessed application represented a person or family that wasn’t getting food stamp benefi ts they were entitled to. A giant scandal in early 2014 revealed that there was an astonishing backlog of over 8,000 applications in Guilford County – a debacle that could have cost the entire state its federal food stamp funding. Other counties in North Carolina were having problems too with the new system, though nothing like Guilford’s. Wayne Black, director of the Division of Social Services for the NC DHHS, said this week that there’s no question there were issues with the transition of food stamp services and other services to NC FAST – especially in Guilford County – but he added that things are getting better, many of the issues are being addressed and NC FAST is now running much more smoothly in Guilford County and other counties as workers become more acclimated to the computing system and the kinks are ironed out. Black said that, in Guilford County’s backlog situation in 2014, there were a lot more issues at play than simply problems with the software. He said one issue was the switch from social services workers fi lling out paper forms with pens to entering the information electronically, and he added that that would have been an issue with any new computing system. “The conversion to an electronic system was a significant learning process,” Black said. He added that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act forced NC DHHS to rush forward with getting Medicaid benefi ts onto the system. He said the Medicaid element was originally going to be something the state implemented in a slower fashion after smaller less complex programs were done fi rst. Black said another factor that hurt Guilford County and other counties was that, between 2008 and 2014, there had been about a 75 percent increase in food stamp caseloads, so one problem was the simple fact that counties were handling many more cases than before. “It was really a perfect storm and they didn’t weather it well,” Black said of Guilford County in late 2013 and early 2014. State offi cials don’t like to be openly critical of the management of county social services, but another major factor was extreme mismanagement by former Guilford County Social Services Director Robert Williams, who was forced to resign in March 2014 after the scandal broke. Black said that other counties in the state had seen some rocky roads as well in their transition to NC FAST, but (continued on next page)

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