Gut punches at the Greensboro Partnership

Mayoral candidates Robbie Perkins and Bill Knight got rough with each other at an otherwise genteel candidate forum hosted by the Greensboro Partnership and SynerG.

“In terms of why I feel like I’m a better candidate for mayor, I have 16 years of experience in working under other mayors to know how to lead this city,” said Perkins, the challenger. “I think it’s been a problem the last couple of years that the mayor’s office has not had a lot of experience. For example, I never would have said that losing 1,600 jobs at American Express was a ‘blip’ on the radar screen.”

He ended his remarks abruptly to let the impact sink in.

For his part, Knight recycled attack lines from the Monday night mayoral debate at Guilford College.

“There are nine people on the council and they’ve got to work together all the time,” he said. “That means working together, paying attention; not sending out texts, not talking, not exhorting members of the audience to show disrespect. When we go on a retreat, it’s not a matter of getting in the mayor’s face and threatening an override if you don’t get your favorite commission appointment.”

Perhaps the question of most interest to the hosts was how the candidates proposed to support or work with the Greensboro Partnership, the city’s top economic and community development organization. The city council voted in June to cut $14,000 in funding to the partnership, along with other nonprofits. A last-minute effort to restore the funding failed, with council members Perkins and Nancy Vaughan on the losing end. Knight and Councilman Danny Thompson voted to maintain the funding cut.

“I think you’ve got to support the Greensboro Partnership,” Perkins said. “And I don’t think you can have a briefing session and have a 5-4 vote against retaining the full support of the partnership because you’re cutting advertising funding for the program…. So number one, you’ve got to support the partnership. Number two, you’ve got to support an environment in our city that small business thinks is stable, that we are going to support them, we’re going to be there for them. We’re going to give them the confidence to invest both money and time to make their businesses grow in our city.”

Vaughan said, “I currently serve on the board of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, so I’m very aware of what’s going on in the partnership and the chamber, and I support them 100 percent. This year, our funding was cut by 10 percent during our budget process. I advocated very strongly to restore that 10 percent. Unfortunately, I was not successful. In the city of Greensboro we do not have a large business office where we can be proactive; we’re reactive. We need people who are out there pounding the pavement and helping us find large employers. That’s something the chamber does.”

Knight said the council would continue to work with the partnership, and named a number of initiatives the city was pursuing to help small businesses. He added, “Our responsibility is municipal responsibility. Municipal government: providing for the healthy and safety and infrastructure and the other services that go with it.”

Thompson said he supported the partnership in two undertakings: An allocation of federal funding to create a small business revolving loan fund that will be administered by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, and an initiative to join the partnership in funding a national public relations campaign to attract attention to Greensboro.

Remarks from other at-large candidates:

Wayne Abraham: “As a candidate, I have already reached out to the partnership, and so obviously as a city council member I would do the same. I sat down with them to discuss what we can do to provide economic development in Greensboro, and their response to me was, in large part, what I proposed in my platform for economic development in Greensboro. And one of the items I proposed was restoring funding, perhaps even increasing funding for the partnership on specific projects so that we could promote our city and promote our own economic development in this area and in our city: Buy local, implementing our Sustainability Action Plan, restoring funding to our infrastructure, and increasing our funding to the economic development partnership.”

Marikay Abuzuaiter: “We must have those who are able to go out and seek economic development for Greensboro. The city council does not create jobs. It is up to us working with the partnership to make sure that they have the tools available where they can go out and seek these economic development opportunities for us. Now, we need to make sure we have in certain instances the infrastructure, the viability for our city. We need to make sure that we are creating that positive image that will help them help sell Greensboro and in turn bring jobs to Greensboro.”

Yvonne Johnson: “I really think it’s our duty as an elected official to partner and do all we can with the partnership, with the chamber, with all of the groups that are working for economic development. For goodness sake, every candidate at every forum said one of the most pressing needs in Greensboro is jobs, so how can you not do that? And it would also give you an advantage when you are talking to the citizens about what is going on in Greensboro in terms of the effort to recruit jobs so that they become shareholders in that information and proud of what the partnership and the council and all the entities are doing.”

Chris Lawyer: “I think when you have an economic development group you have to bring that group together in order to have sustainable economic development. And as an elected official you certainly are obligated to be part of that discussion because your constituents have brought you to the forefront to be a voice for them in economic development, so we have to work closely together as a city, and as a group with the Greensboro Partnership to find the best solutions. That means bringing businesses to the table, large and small, along with the economic development arms and also the city council and mayor and get the discussion going and talk about real solutions. It’s got to be a very dynamic and very fluid situation in order for this to be a successful process. And if we’re not going to do this, then I don’t think we’re giving our citizens the full economic impact we possibly could.”

An allegation has been circulating in conservative circles that the Greensboro Partnership submitted a question to the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition, or TREBIC, for a questionnaire on whether candidates would support a prepared food tax. Answers from the questionnaire have been used by an anonymous group claiming to represent the restaurant industry to characterize candidates positions. (See previous posts: 1 and 2.)

Jason Cannon, vice president of government affairs, flatly denied the allegation.

"That is not true," he said. "We did not submit any question to TREBIC about the restaurant tax."

Cannon added that he coordinated with TREBIC on the questionnaire, and he was the only representative of the partnership that did so. He said he saw a copy of the questionnaire just before it was finalized and did not ask to insert any questions.

"There was no formal discussion and no formal activity with us looking at a prepared food tax," he said, adding that he heard some idle talk about it and researched the law to satisfy his own curiosity. Cannon is registered as a lobbyist with the state of North Carolina representing the Greensboro Partnership.

Vaughan said Assistant City Manager Denise Turner Roth told council on Tuesday that a local prepared food tax would require the NC General Assembly to pass enabling legislation. The legislature's Republican leadership has taken a dim view of tax increases and has worked closely with the conservative members of Greensboro City Council on other issues. Mayoral candidate Perkins has called the matter "a made-up issue."

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