City Council approves new social district, New Police Chief introducedBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / December 21, 2022
The Greensboro City Council conducted a hybrid virtual and in-person meeting on Tuesday night.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan gave a warm welcome to Greensboro’s new Chief of Police John Thompson, who assumed his duties as Greensboro’s police chief on Friday, December 16, with a swearing-in ceremony scheduled for January 10, 2023 at The Carolina Theatre. Thompson, a native of Cobb, Ca., has been a member of the GPD since 2003.
He succeeds Brian James who retired in April 2022.“Thank you. It’s been a whirlwind,” said Thompson. “The City of Greensboro is a phenomenal place. It’s a humbling honor to be selected as police chief of this police department. I know our folks are ready to move forward. We have a lot of innovative initiatives to push forward in this new year. I’m looking forward to working with the council on things and I look forward to working closely with the community.”
Mayor Vaughan also commended Deputy Chief Teresa Biffle for her work as interim police chief during the search process.
Council also approved an ordinance to establish a second Social District on State Street. “Social district” means and refers to a defined outdoor area in which a person may consume alcoholic beverages sold by a permittee. A social district allows people to bring alcoholic drinks from one participating bar, restaurant, or shop to another. The first Social District was established in the downtown area in March 2022, where patrons can consume alcohol on the street in a predesignated area mapped by city staff.
Three people spoke in opposition of adding a social district to State Street. The map includes businesses on Georgia and Roseland Streets and on one end and between Palm and Church Streets on the other end.
Dr. Mary Ann Contogiannis, owner of Renaissance Center for Plastic Surgery and Wellness for 21 years on State Street, said her business does not fit the criteria to belong in a social district.
“My business is very different from others on the street,” she said. “It’s not appropriate to include my practice in a social district. Patients deserve privacy and we make every attempt to protect that for them in my office.”
Charles Emmanuel, a clinical esthetician at Renaissance asked that limitations be placed on the social district that will work for all the businesses on State Street.
“I’m in favor of economic revitalization. The question is how we do this and prepare for the parking or safety issues this may cause,” he said.
Vaughan asked to amend the ordinance for a start date of April 1, 2023, so businesses can learn how to opt out of being part of the social district if they wish to do so.
“Retailers downtown have noticed an increase in business or return customers. State Street has been through a number of transformations over the years. I think we owe it to the business owners to give them an opportunity, if this is a way to increase their business,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson brought up her concerns about needing additional police resources on State Street.
“While I’ve heard that it’s been great for businesses, it also requires more money. It requires more policing. We need to take all of that into consideration,” she said.
Assistant City Manager Trey Davis agreed that it is not something that the city will force any business to participate in. If a business is located within the designate map area, they can post signage that indicates that they are not a participant in the Social District and no alcohol is allowed at their establishment.
He noted that 4-5 businesses showed interest, and after they canvassed the area, ten more businesses signed on. At this point 15 businesses have been approached for input.
Hightower also said she was concerned about safety and police presence.
“I am very concerned about the safety aspect and if we can put enough police presence in that area. I think we will need to have certain perimeters in place.”
When asked about police calls in downtown now, Police Chief Thompson said GPD has not seen an increase in the need for police presence since becoming a social district. However, as this initiative moves forward, they will determine if there is a need for more resources on State Street.
The item passed 5 to 3, with council members Yvonne Johnson, Sharon Hightower, and Goldie Wells voting no. Council member Zack Matheny was absent.