In calling out city-funded nonprofits, a councilman plays to his audience but loses the rest of the crowd.

When the new Greensboro City Council came in last year, many observers thought it marked a definite departure from past councils that propelled divisive issues and played an ugly brand of racially-tinged politics to ply apart the electorate.

Councilman Tony Wilkins of District 5 broke the détente last week with a motion to gather information about payroll for nonprofits that receive city support.

On the surface it seems in character — Wilkins has positioned himself as the council’s lone conservative, a mouthpiece for the small but vocal band of voters who similarly identify themselves. Who better to act as custodian for our tax money?

Add to that the impetus for the request — an in-depth probe of the financial dealings of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum — and you’ve got what we in the journalism business call a “beat-sweetener.” The conservatives who make up Wilkins’ cohort have an almost pathological dislike for the ICRCM, which hits the trifecta of extreme right-wing hot buttons: It concerns civil rights, it gets taxpayer support and there are a whole lot of black people involved. If they were handing out birth control in there, one of these wingnuts might just burn it to the ground.

Besides the dog-whistle to his constituency in District 5 and beyond, Wilkins’ motion also had the effect of a perceived swipe at two of his colleagues on council — at-large Councilman Mike Barber and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, both of whom head up nonprofits, neither of which regularly receives city money. And neither one of them was present at the work meeting where Wilkins brought up his motion.

When the two had a chance to discuss the motion at last week’s council meeting, Wilkins’ pugnacious words seemed designed to further fan the flames.

“Just explain to the public why you want to hide this information,” he said to Barber.

It played well with his constituency and shored up his conservative credentials, but every beat-sweetener comes with a price. Wilkins may have scored points with the local GOP, but he alienated himself from two longstanding councilmembers, which could come back to him down the line. And because the information he requested is already public — most information on nonprofits is available on — he looks pretty silly in the eyes of the informed voters. But clearly, that’s not who he was playing to.


  1. Well this all started because of the failure of the City Manager and City Attorney, if they handled the Museum loan right we might not be at this point. The fire has started and people are talking but I fear the true victims will be the non-profits. The non-profits don’t want their salaries posted all over the place. The public might not understand the salaries and think they are to high and stop donating. The non-profit that is center stage right now is Mikes, his salary is all over town, but I don’t know how much work he puts into it so is it high or low I don’t know but people only see numbers. There is nothing that can be done now, mikes non-profit is on the radar as are others, I do hope they don’t suffer in donations going down. I like Tony and he Is doing his job on council to make requests, we may not like it but that’s his right, he was elected to do that. The fault here belongs to city staff/ former and maybe current and some on council, current and former for not handling the museum loan the right way that started the whole mess that the people the non-profits help had to suffer now for.

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