Ignite Greensboro dropped from weatherization outreach proposal

An organization mobilizing Greensboro college students to engage with community policy matters has been removed from a proposal to contract with the city to provide outreach services for a federally-funded weatherization program.

Assistant City Manager Denise Turner Roth told members of Greensboro City Council on Sept. 9 that Ignite Greensboro had been removed from a consortium of groups headed by NC A&T University assistant professor Robert Powell proposing to contract with the city.

Turner said she became concerned about Ignite Greensboro’s role in the BetterBuildings weatherization outreach effort after reading a story in YES! Weekly. The newspaper reported that the organization has been educating students about the White Street Landfill and planned to hold a march from the A&T campus to city hall on Sept. 20 to protest the planned reopening of the landfill.

Ignite Greensboro was founded by former UNCG student Zim Ugochukwu in 2009 following her experience volunteering for the 2008 Obama campaign. Since its founding the organization has raised money for the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and facilitated student volunteer efforts to provide low-income residents with energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs.

“I am concerned that the article suggests Ignite would engage in outreach of BetterBuildings while engaging in advocacy efforts regarding the landfill,” Roth said in a Sept. 8 e-mail to council members. “This obviously raises concerns about potential conflict between political advocacy work and government policy outreach. I want to avoid any real or perceived issues that would cast doubt on the use of program funds.”

Roth said she spoke with Powell, adding that “he immediately understood why there was a level of concern.” Neither Powell nor Cherrell Brown, director of Ignite Greensboro, could be reached for comment for this story.

“It’s very likely the activities Ignite Greensboro has been involved with in regards to the landfill — the activities of going door to door is what we’re hoping to do with the energy efficiency grant,” Roth told YES! Weekly. “The concern is that there isn’t any confusion about the outreach on weatherization being in conflict or overlapping with a political action effort.”

The council was scheduled to vote on Tuesday on a recommendation to execute a $214,200 contract with the Center for Energy Research & Technology at NC A&T University to provide community outreach for the BetterBuildings program. The Center for Energy Research & Technology will be the lead organization in partnership with the nonprofit Greensboro Housing Coalition and Housing Greensboro. The outreach funds will be paid out of a $5 million grant from the US Energy Department.


Eric Ginsburg said...

I want to make sure that as the author of the article in question that it is clear that there was never any indication that Ignite Greensboro members would be simultaneously doing outreach around the landfill and the BetterBuildings program. The article focused on how Ignite plans to grapple with both issues, but it was never stated by anyone interviewed nor was it my impression that the students would be engaging in both campaigns at once.

Ignite members were planning to undertake both campaigns simultaneously, but not during a given outreach attempt, as far as I can tell. I can't tell by Roth's wording if this was part of her concern or not.

Also to clarify, Jordan if I understand your post correctly, city staff is still proposing the same group to council on Tuesday, but Ignite Greensboro is no longer part of the coalition. Is this correct?

I'm also curious if it is city policy not to work with any groups that are in any way critical of city or council action or are engaged in advocacy around other issues. I would imagine that Roth's decision has implications for other contracts and partnerships in the future.

Jordan Green said...

Taking your questions one at a time:

* I'm not sure I understand the first question. My understanding of Roth's comment is that considering that a lot of the weatherization outreach will consist of "door to door" engagement of the citizens and that the landfill advocacy effort has used a similar approach her concern is that there might be a risk of the two topics being discussed interchangeably with citizens during the same encounters and conversations.

* Yes, the contract with CERT is on the agenda for next Tuesday. In addition to CERT, it references Greensboro Housing Coalition and Housing Greensboro as partners. Roth's e-mail to council members states that Ignite was one of five partners in the consortium. I'm not sure how the partnership went from five to three.

* Potential conflicts of interest abound in Greensboro politics, but usually it's a nexus of business interests and policy decisions. I'm not aware of other situations that are exactly analogous to this. One that comes to mind is that the Greensboro Housing Coalition has energetically advocated to keep RUCO strong and alive. On a less grassroots level, I'm working on a blog post right now about Brooks Pierce law firm's contract with the city for outside legal counsel. Attorneys with the law firm have frequently come before city council to argue zoning matters.

I think this is a worthwhile discussion to have. Are there other potential conflicts of interest that put this in a different perspective?