GREENSBORO — Turns out City Council members conduct their private meetings much like their public ones:

They disagree about management philosophy. They fret over the city’s image. They talk over each other — and sometimes yell.

How do we know this?

Because the council this week released a 22-minute portion of a closed-door meeting it held Oct. 18.

It involved a discussion about whether Councilwoman Sharon Hightower should be able to review reports about the Greensboro Police Department’s internal investigation into former Officer Travis Cole.

Cole and then-Officer Charlotte Jackson were investigating a call June 17 about a possible robbery at the house where Dejuan Yourse’s mother lives. Footage shows Cole punching Yourse in the face.

The police department’s internal investigation determined that Cole used too much force and violated the police department’s rules about search and seizure.

The News & Record believes that portion of the meeting held to discuss Hightower’s request for the files was held in violation of the state’s open meeting laws, since it didn’t involve a personnel matter or an economic development project, and wasn’t conducted to receive advice from an attorney.

Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter asked the council to take the unusual step of releasing the audio of the Oct. 18 meeting, which ended in a 5-4 vote to deny Hightower’s request (a decision the council has since overturned).

Abuzuaiter, who voted against Hightower’s request both times, received unanimous support to release the audio.

On Thursday, Abuzuaiter said her “integrity and character have been called into question by certain community leaders because I made a vote that I felt I needed to make.”

Audio from the private meeting, she said, best explains why she opposed Hightower’s request: “Because I know that the ultimate goal was solely to have (police Chief Wayne Scott) fired.”

So here’s an edited version of what your City Council talks about in private:

• • •

(City Attorney Tom Carruthers begins by asking members for guidance about Hightower’s request. Members question why Hightower wants to see the information.)

Justin Outling: “My thing is, if I have legitimate concerns about your ability to do your job, the chief’s ability to do his job, or Jim’s ability to do his job, I think we need to make a change.”

(Crosstalk between Hightower and Outling.)

Hightower: “I’ve asked this repeatedly in open forum. I’ve asked for it here. I thought I was going to get it last time. We sat here in closed session ... and I didn’t ... and Tom said, ‘Well, you’ve got to get a consensus of council,’ and I said, ‘Well I honestly thought I had the consensus of council the first time and nobody opened their mouth.’ Everybody was appalled. Everybody was so bent out of shape. But now all of the sudden it’s a changed venue. And I, for one, am not finished with this issue.”

Abuzuaiter: “I’m trying to figure out what the ultimate goal is here. Because what good is it for any of us to know that ABC officer looked at this file, then sent it on, when it’s all been agreed and said that the timeline was within the 45-day parameter ...”

Hightower: “I’m interested in more ...”

Abuzuaiter: “I’m not finished ...”

Hightower: “Well you asked the question ...

Abuzuaiter: “I am not finished ...”

Hightower: “I’m interested in more than that ...”

Abuzuaiter: “I am not finished ...”

Hightower: ”I’m interested in more than that. I understand. Go ahead.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan: “Marikay’s not done.”

(Abuzuaiter continues to talk about the scope of the council’s management authority.)

Abuzuaiter: “Now, Sharon: You have said at a public forum that you wanted to get the police chief fired. You said that.”

Hightower: “So? (yelling) Do you want me to back ... I’m not backing up off of that, Marikay. That’s not my ...”

(Inaudible, several members talking)

Vaughan: “Let’s not yell.”

Hightower: “You called my name ...”

Abuzuaiter: “I’m not finished ...”

Hightower: “So when you call my name ...”

Abuzuaiter: “I am not finished ...”

Hightower: “Like the man over here says, when you call his name, you invite him to the discussion. So I’m invited to the discussion.”

Mike Barber: “We’ve lost our way.”

Abuzuaiter: “Yeah. Yeah, we have.”

Barber: “This is really immature.”

Hightower: “And I’ve asked for the officers’ statements and if I had gotten the officers’ statements ...”

(Inaudible discussion among members)

Barber (to Vaughan): “No, we’ll stop her. You’ve got to step up and lead.”

Abuzuaiter: “And I’m not done.”

Barber (to Vaughan): “And I don’t mean to ... I’ve supported you for three years. You’ve got to take control of these meetings. She’s out of order ...”

Hightower: “I am not out of order ...”

(Inaudible discussion among members)

Hightower: “I am not out of order ...”

Barber: “She’s out of order ...”

(Inaudible discussion among members)

Hightower: “I am not any more out of order than you are.”

Vaughan: “Mike, we meet twice a month. We can put some time into it.”

Hightower: “I am no more out of order than you.”

Barber: “Marikay has the floor. You are the chair of the meeting. You need to allow her to speak. That’s the point I’m making ...”

Abuzuaiter: “... until I finish, then anyone can yell all they want. So to me, that looks like that’s the ultimate goal. But if we have a problem with officers, if we have a problem with people under the directive of the city manager and city attorney, we need to go to them. We don’t need to dig down and look at personnel files and investigate this and find out that Officer X did this. Seriously, in all honesty, I sat here and (Deputy) Chief (James) Hinson, you know, that 24-hour summary was read ... the command staff got that 24-hour summary. Chief Hinson, you are the head of the patrol bureau, and so if Cole’s name didn’t pop out at him, what are we going to dig out and try to find every police officer who may have touched this ...

Hinson: “Can I just say one thing: Reading that 24-hour summary would not lead me to ... you have to see the video in order to see ... (inaudible)”

Abuzuaiter: “I know, I understand, but you were involved in Cole’s first hearings and things on the Scales brothers. All I’m saying is that if it didn’t pop out to Chief Hinson that this was Cole, who had a problem — and (to Hinson) I’m not berating you and I’m not trying to call you out — but if it didn’t pop out at you, why are we going to dig down and find every officer who ever had a look at something Cole did?”

Vaughan: “Well, I think the process worked.”

(Several council members speak in agreement)

Abuzuaiter: “The timeline is correct. The process worked. And you know what? The bottom line here is ...

Hightower: “You know what?”

Abuzuaiter: “If I can finish ... I’m going to finish right now, Tony, let me finish ... please ... The timeline not only worked, but you have to look at the fact that it was self-reported use of force. If there’s any cover up, Cole would have tried to cover it up. Correct? So, I’m going to kind of end with that. But, you know, this is just tearing people apart and everybody ... officers’ morale is zero. And it’s tearing me apart because we’ve got a good police department, we’ve got a good chief. ... I don’t want to drill down and see every personnel file or person who saw this piece of paper. It’d be like us going and checking every support person or support staff in the building. It just doesn’t make sense.”

(Councilman Jamal Fox asks members to take a deep breath, and to be mindful of people waiting in the council’s chamber for the public meeting to start. Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann asks whether Sharon could just look at the material on her own.)

Outling: “If this is what we’re going to do, then we don’t really need management-level city staff. If we have to look down into personnel records at that level after there’s an investigation that was completed — and I haven’t been alerted to any reason to question the integrity of that investigation, to not trust city staff, hell, we don’t need you.”

(Barber makes a motion that council not review any more material and make no further public statement. Hightower reiterates that she is a council member asking for investigative material, not personnel information. Outling says he wants to support her, but that he doesn’t have a reason to question the police department’s internal investigation. Hightower says she does question it.)

Hightower: “You say a process worked. It’s a 45-day process. One person kept it for 42 alone.”

(Multiple council members talk as Outling asks what Hightower would gain from seeing the material.)

Outling: “To get that information, you would be asking to essentially conduct an independent interview of that employee because you don’t trust the interview that was done by more senior officials.”

Hightower: “Then what if I just ask for an independent investigation, then? Then I don’t have to do that.”


Outling: “If you explain to me why there’s a justification for why there needs to be an independent investigation ...”

Hightower: “I know the Human Relations Commission has said that, that they wanted to review it ...”

Abuzuaiter: “That’s beyond their purview.”

Vaughan: “Someone’s got to tell the Human Relations Commission what their job is.”

(Barber takes out part of his motion barring further discussion on the matter. Only Barber, Abuzuaiter and Tony Wilkins vote in favor of it.)

Barber (to Outling): “I believe our job is to do what’s best for the city of Greensboro. And I recognize that you have pressures that some other council members don’t have.”

Outling: “All of us have this.”

Barber: “Sure. If you’re a district rep ... I get it.”

Outling: “My district isn’t exactly happy with some of our unprecedented actions.”

Barber: “I was a district rep, too, so I’ve felt it, too. But at some point, instead of continuing — and this is a terrible phrase — the show what we keep putting on, we have got to take into our hearts what we’re doing to our police department. We’re killing ‘em. We are killing ‘em. And we’re down 45-50 officers or whatever ...

Abuzuaiter: “... 20 more are leaving.”

Barber: “Yeah. Whatever it is. And every two weeks, we have the parade of characters come up and just beat the crap out of us and our city. And some of us oppose it, and some of us participate in it. And we’re hurting our city. We’re doing a poor job of marketing it. And we’re really doing a poor job of supporting the people who support us, and they’re the first call ...”


(Vaughan says she has suggested a resolution that supports the City Manager Jim Westmoreland; city attorney Carruthers; and public safety officers. Westmoreland asked her not to, she says. Westmoreland says it’s more effective for police officers to hear it from each member of the council as they’re watching the meetings. But other members say their support should be in writing.)

Vaughan: “There would be a vote that we support the police chief, we support the city manager, we support the city attorney

Abuzuaiter: “... and we’re gonna let ‘em do their jobs.”

Wilkins: “And let them do their jobs.”

(Hightower makes motion to see documents and further explains her position.)

Hightower: “For me, I can’t move on in some sense ... and I certainly support the police department. I recognize you when you call 911. This is not about the whole police department. This is about an isolated incident. It is not about saying all the police department is wrong. ...

(Hightower continues, when members cut her off and ask for a vote on letting her see the documents. Hightower, Fox, Vaughan and Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson vote for it. Abuzuaiter, Barber, Hoffmann, Outling and Wilkins oppose it. The council adjourns the meeting and returns to the council chamber.)

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Contact Margaret Moffett at (336) 373-7031 and follow @MargaretMoffett on Twitter.

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