Featured photo: Greensboro city leaders and chief city staff members discuss this year’s legislative session with state and federal representatives. (Screenshot)

At the Tanger Center on Monday morning, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, councilmembers and chief city staff members pitched their legislative agenda to Rep. Kathy Manning and Guilford County lawmakers Sen. Gladys Robinson, Sen. Michael Garrett, Rep. Amos Quick and Rep. Ashton Clemmons.

The meeting took place just one day before City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba resigned from his post after weeks of controversy surrounding a domestic call that was made to his home in December. Councilmembers did not discuss the issue at Monday’s meeting.

City leaders ask for more money for police, fire department resources

Last month, city leaders requested $18 million from the state for an information-management system for the city’s police department. It would cover records management, body-worn cameras, drones and more, according to Greensboro Police Chief John Thompson. 

“Anything really that would deal with us collecting information and how we use that information in the community,” he said.

The city also asked for nearly $1.5 million for their real-time intelligence center. The center uses technology that can access participating local businesses’ security cameras, as well as license-plate readers placed across the city. Other municipalities around the state and across the country have this type of technology center, including Winston-Salem.

But some in the community are hesitant, such as activist Hester Petty who spoke out against the technology at the city council meeting last month.

“While surveillance has a place in law enforcement, my concern is the depth and breadth of its use by the GPD,” Petty said, “and whether effective safeguards are in place to protect the public from unwarranted, illegally or racially biased surveillance.”

In other asks, Greensboro Fire Chief Jim Robinson requested $300,000 for a peer-support clinician, a three-year pilot program. While the clinician would serve fire department staff, they would also be utilized by police and Guilford Metro 911 staff. Robinson said that since becoming chief in 2021, the department has had two suicides and multiple deaths from cancer.

“It does have a downstream effect on our workforce,” he said, adding that it “affects morale” and “retention.”

Robinson added that they also want a fire station near Piedmont Triad International Airport, which is serviced by the city’s fire department. Right now, they’re not meeting their response times for that area, the chief said. On Tuesday, city leaders authorized a land purchase for the station. 

Robinson also asked leaders to “leverage some dollars” to replace the more than 9,000 gallons of firefighting foam that contain PFAS — forever chemicals — with some safer and more environmentally-friendly options.

The city also noted that they need more funding to upfit and expand their water and sewer systems.

“We are aware that the legislature is really looking at the city of Greensboro to be a regional partner when it comes to water and sewer,” Vaughan said, adding that the city has spent $150 million sending pipes out to the new Toyota megasite, and that they “want to be the recipient of some of the Toyota jobs and especially all those spinoffs.”

Water Resources Director Mike Borchers said that the city is “limited” on their sewer capacity. It would cost around $750 million to build a regional wastewater-treatment facility serving southern Guilford County and most of Randolph County, he said.

But the funding for these projects can’t all come out of the city’s budget, Vaughan said, or out of residents’ pockets.

“In order to make that happen, we are going to need some significant funding from the state legislature,” she noted.

Vaughan said that she knows that this is something that can be “justified” by the legislature’s “need and the desire for this area to grow and for us to be the utility provider.”

“We’re willing to do it, but we need partners,” she added.

Last year’s highlights

During 2023’s legislative session, city leaders pushed for HB140, which was eventually signed into law and allows NC cities to deploy civilian personnel to investigate traffic crashes.

GPD officers respond to between 10,000-15,000 crashes per year, according to Chief Thompson who added that this equates to roughly 22,000 hours of work. This week, five civilian traffic investigators will start work. GPD’s priority is violent crime and community engagement, Thompson said, and these five investigators will help them allocate their officers elsewhere.

In 2022, Greensboro was ranked No. 1 in the state for traffic crashes within cities with a population above 10,000. Lumberton ranked second and Charlotte third, while Winston-Salem took seventh place. 

“Maybe we’re not the best drivers in Greensboro,” Thompson said. 

Investigators do not have the authority to arrest or issue criminal charges. They won’t have weapons and their uniforms will be significantly different in color and style from law enforcement officers. They also will only inspect crashes involving property damage.

Cities participating in the program establish the minimum standards for investigators who are required to attend a training program designed by the NC Justice Academy. After completing the program, each investigator spends a minimum of four weeks of field training with a law enforcement officer who has experience conducting traffic crash investigations. 

Last year’s state budget also included $11 million to remediate Bingham Park and downtown sites. The city originally requested $32 million from the state to clean up Bingham Park, which is situated on top of a pre-regulatory landfill. An incinerator on site burned household waste from Guilford County and the US Military. The District 1 park is an integral part of three predominantly-Black neighborhoods: Eastside Park, Willow Oaks and Cottage Grove. In tandem with the community, the city started planning efforts to redesign and improve the park in the late 2000s. These plans were stopped short in 2010 when the NC Department of Environmental Quality designated the site as an inactive hazardous waste/pre-regulatory landfill, requiring remediation prior to the completion of park improvements. The remediation option requested by the community has a total cost of approximately $39 million, city leaders said.

For the future, Downtown Greensboro Inc. President and Councilmember Zack Matheny asked that all state remediation funds go toward Bingham Park.

Downtown is “gonna be fine,” he said.

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