Whether the Greensboro City Council will be restructured could be decided as soon as next week by the N.C. House. But no debate or changes will be allowed on what has become a controversial issue.
The N.C. Senate voted 31-16 Thursday morning to approve House Bill 263, which originally would only make changes to the Trinity City Council. However, state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) modified the Trinity bill, adding the changes to the Greensboro council that were originally proposed in Senate Bill 36, which has been languishing in a House committee.
House members must now hold a concurrence vote on the combined bill, with no debate or amendments allowed. If it passes, HB 263 will become law. If it fails, the bill will go to a conference committee of House and Senate members where the two bodies will try to work out their differences on the bill. Whatever emerges will need to pass both chambers or the bill will fail to become law.
House Republicans are scheduled to caucus about the bill next week, which is the soonest it may come before them. If passed, the bill would shrink the Greensboro City Council from nine to seven members, make all council members elected from districts, make the mayor a nonvoting member in most cases, and extend council terms from two years to four.
Several House members — Republicans and Democrats — said Thursday that the bill may have a hard time passing the House. Nearly all of Guilford County’s delegation oppose the Greensboro parts of the bill.
Are we living in a democracy or a dictatorship?
The way the bill now comes to the House — rolled into an unrelated bill, handed down by the Senate for an up or down vote, without the opportunity for debate or additions by the House — doesn’t help the matter, House members said.
“The way they’ve done this deprives people of one of the houses they’re entitled to under our constitution,” said state Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford). “Both the House and the Senate are supposed to hear a bill, have debate, offer suggestions.”
Instead, Blust said, Senate maneuvering deprived House members of the ability to do their elected duty to vet bills.
“Sen. Wade has decided that if House members don’t agree with how she wants to set things up in Greensboro, she’ll just maneuver around the North Carolina state House,” Blust said. “That’s not the system the people put in place.”
It was one of the rule changes put into place by Democrats that allows for such maneuvering, he said.
“As Republicans we should be doing better,” Blust said. “That’s why we ran, that’s why we were elected. Not to do things the way the Democrats did.”
State Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford) has been fairly neutral about the Greensboro changes in his public comments — and that didn’t change Thursday.
“I don’t know that I would have done it the same way,” Faircloth said of the Senate move. “But that’s how the Senate decided to handle the situation, and there’s nothing improper or illegal about what they did. So, we have to take what they give us now and vote on it.”
He wouldn’t say how he’ll vote. He declined to comment on whether Greensboro residents should be allowed a referendum on their city’s form of government, as has been suggested by Democrats and Republicans in both chambers.
“We had a situation in High Point where there were election changes, and I favored a referendum then,” Faircloth said. “But every situation is different, every situation has to depend on its own merits.”
By rolling the two bills together, the Senate has pitted the interests of two municipalities against each other.
The Trinity bill has been fairly uncontroversial and its General Assembly delegation agrees on the changes, which include reducing the council from eight members to five and shortening the terms from four years to two.
The Greensboro council changes have been widely opposed by Democrats and Republicans.
On Thursday, local developer and businessman Marty Kotis, a Republican who has contributed to Wade’s campaigns and considers her a friend, came out strongly against the Senate’s action on the bill.
On his digital billboard near the corner of Battleground Avenue and Green Valley Road, Kotis is running two political ads. One is a coiled snake with the words “Don’t Tread on Me” — a message to Raleigh about local sovereignty, he said.
The other is a play on the broken snake cartoon created by Benjamin Franklin during the Revolutionary War. “Greensboro” and “Trinity” appear on the pieces of the snake with the message “Join or Die” beneath.
The representatives from both cities must unite on the issue and insist on the bills being considered separately or not at all, Kotis said.
He said he supports 95 percent of what Wade has done in Raleigh, but he’s made it clear to her he disagrees with her proposed changes to the City Council.
Kotis, whose latest ventures in Greensboro include the Pig Pounder brewery, RED Cinemas, the Marshall Freehouse and Burger Warfare, said the idea that the business community was calling for the changes doesn’t hold water.
“I haven’t heard from anyone in the business community who wants this,” he said. “I’m hearing from a lot of people in the business community who think it’s scary, that it may affect them investing in the city.”
No one knows what kind of council may come out of these changes, Kotis said — and because the bill extends council terms, the changes will be locked in for twice as long.
If that big a change is to be made, Kotis said, it should come from Greensboro rather than Raleigh.
“I’m a big believer in local rule and local governance overall,” he said.