Candidates participate in forumBy Yasmine Regester / September 18, 2015
At-large and mayoral candidates running for the Greensboro City Council answered questions from the community on Tuesday, September 15 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church during a forum sponsored by The League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad.
At-large incumbents Marikay Abuzuaiter, Mike Barber and Mayor Pro Tem, Yvonne Johnson will face challengers Marc Ridgill, Brian Hoss and Sylvine Hill in the general election in November.
The Mayoral race will see three candidates in the primaries on October 6, Devin King and Sal Leone, who will face incumbent Nancy Vaughan.
Tuesday’s forum gave candidates an opportunity to discuss their ideas on economic development, food insecurity, housing, solid waste, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, and working with other municipalities.
Marc Ridgill is a retired, 29 year veteran of the Greensboro Police Department, who believes safety and security is a big part of economic development in underserved areas, such as East Greensboro.
“We have got to market development in other areas of Greensboro than just downtown,” said Ridgill. “We also have to convince business owners that their businesses will be protected if they chose to develop in that area.”
A native of Winston-Salem, Brian Hoss comes from a 15 year background in retail and food service, which he says has equipped him with the skills to work well with people.
“I think government needs fresh ideas and new people to come in. I thought, ‘hey I want to make a difference. I want to bring jobs to Greensboro,’” said Hoss, who also has a goal to open Greensboro’s first LGBT center.
Sylvine Hill, a developmental specialist, believes that the key to Greensboro’s success lies in more modern jobs.
“I really want Greensboro to have more modern and technological jobs,” said Hill. “Why have a technical school on the east side of Greensboro, with no businesses or money around it?” Hill wants to see the city partner with recent college graduates to create new and modern jobs that reflect a more technological society.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Greensboro has 17 identified food deserts, areas in the city that lack access to a grocery store.
Devin King, a certified nursing assistant, said the issue of food insecurity can be helped by collaborating with county and state representatives.
“We need to have reps of council to go to the county and state legislature and demand they do something about the situation. We need to stop having people being malnourished in certain parts of the city. If the mayor feels it’s not a city matter, then we will continue to have this problem,” said King.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan noted that the city has been very supportive of the community in Northeast Greensboro working to establish a co-operative grocery store for that area.
“The City of Greensboro has taken a very aggressive line when it comes to addressing food deserts. It really is a county issue, but the city has stepped up strong. We have worked with the community on the Renaissance Co-op, helped renovate the shopping center, worked on community gardens, and community non-profits with food drives. We are also the first council that has addressed food deserts,” said Vaughan.
Thomasville police officer and mayoral candidate Sal Leone said that transportation plays a part in access to food, as well as access to affordable housing.
“People need access to food and living. We can do it through grants and loans. We need to work with developers to bring something to the east to eradicate food deserts,” said Leone. “The key is accessibility.”
Accessibility to housing is something that first term at-large council member Marikay Abuzuiater said would help people find affordable housing.
“We have housing that could be made affordable with proper repairs. Transportation is an issue. We need to have a consortium with apartment owners and landlords where people can find out where the affordable housing is,” said Abuzuaiter, who has been a small business owner for more than 20 years.
At-large member Mike Barber said the term ‘affordable’ really depends on a person’s income and what they can afford.
“Council took on the task of raising minimum wage. Hopefully that will set a trend and encourage some private sectors to do so too. I think our housing stock and our rigorous inspection process is second to none,” said Barber, a Greensboro attorney who is finishing up his third term on council.
The discussion of what to do with Greensboro’s solid waste has been an ongoing debate for years. Currently a trash mega-site is being developed in Randolph County, which the city is hoping to be a part of. Taking the city’s trash to Randolph County would be a shorter and cheaper distance than where the city currently transports its waste at the Uwharrie Landfill in Montgomery County.
Former Mayor of Greensboro and council member for nearly 10 years, Mayor Pro Tem, Yvonne Johnson, has devoted her career to public service and helping ex-offenders. Johnson also served as mayor when there was discussion of reopening the White Street Landfill, which she opposed.
“We need to use high technology at some point to convert our trash to diminish the need for a landfill,” said Johnson.
Hill suggested that the city also look at solar energy, air purification techniques and educate the residents on how to be good environmental stewards.
Abuzuaiter, who serves on the city’s solid waste commission, said education on recycling is a solution to reducing the city’s waste.
“Monetarily, waste to energy costs too much for the city to do right now. We need to work on recycling and reducing our own waste. If we can educate more and get more businesses and apartment complexes on board, it will make a difference,” said Abuzuaiter.
All the mayoral and at-large candidates support a council resolution to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, but answers varied when asked how the city could help keep the Civil Rights Museum viable. The city recently gave the museum the final $250,000 installment on a $1.5 million loan to help the museum pay off some of its debt and keep it in operation.
Barber noted that it is not uncommon for facilities like museums to operate without losing money.
King’s response drew noise from the crowd when he suggested that the Civil Rights Museum move to the Greensboro Historical Museum and the F.W. Woolworth building then be used for investment.
“I understand the history of the museum, but downtown needs a makeup of modern material and entertainment. $2 million is a lot of money, and there has been nothing but negative from it.”
Johnson noted having longer museum hours or having the museum open during large community events such as The National Folk Festival last weekend, would help draw in visitors.
Mayor Vaughan and the current council made a proposal for the city to take over museum operations, which was not well received by the museum’s Board of Directors and some members of the community.
“I think we should allow the museum to operate the way it is right now. They believe they can make it functional, we should give them a chance,” said Vaughan.
The community will have another opportunity to hear from candidates again at two more forums hosted by The League of Women Voters on Oct. 12 and Oct. 19, both to be held at the Greensboro Central Library.