New city council structure begins next week

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by Eric Ginsburg

Your guide to the forthcoming Greensboro City Council format.

Greensboro will look a lot more like Winston-Salem and High Point come Sept. 1. The city council structure, that is.

Changes to the Greensboro City Council’s format, based on a long-standing model used in Winston-Salem, take effect next week with the formation of four standing committees to vet items before consideration by the full council.

Here’s how it works:

Each city council member, save for the mayor, will serve on two committees. The four — general government, public safety, infrastructure and community services — have chairs and vice chairs, with the mayor allowed to participate in any but holding a vote on none. Some items will work their way through multiple committees, such as a request for additional funds for police equipment.

Gone are the city council work sessions; now the committees will meet once on either Monday or Tuesday mid-month between the city council meetings scheduled on the first and third Tuesdays. The meetings will be televised, and committees will vote on whether to approve items to bring before the full city council.

Public hearing items, recognitions and other city business will still appear before the full council. The goal is smoother council meetings where details have already been ironed out, but Assistant City Manager Mary Vigue said high-dollar or controversial issues will likely still receive thorough discussion within the full body.

“I don’t want to say that they’re mini council meetings, but they kind of are,” Vigue said of the committee meetings.

City council approved the plan on June 2, with council members Tony Wilkins and Sharon Hightower voting against it. Councilman Jamal Fox raised the idea, though others including Councilman Mike Barber had expressed support for the concept in the past.

The council has a few existing ad-hoc subcommittees, and Vigue said they might continue. The participatory budgeting subcommittee of council hasn’t been active since making its recommendation to council, though it hasn’t officially been dissolved, she said. The complaint review committee enhancement subcommittee met over the summer and council approved the east Greensboro subcommittee’s study last month, Vigue said. And Mayor Nancy Vaughan just appointed Councilman Fox to chair the fourth existing subcommittee, economic development, after former chair and councilman Zack Matheny resigned to run Downtown Greensboro Inc.

Fox will also chair the new community services committee, which like infrastructure (chaired by Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann) will meet on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. respectively. The day before, the general government committee (chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson) will meet at 4:30 p.m. followed by the public safety committee (chaired by Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter) at 6 p.m.

The committee composition is mostly constant each day, with Johnson, Barber and Wilkins serving on both Monday committees and Hoffmann, Justin Outling, and Fox serving on the Tuesday committees. Hightower and Abuzuaiter are the only two with one meeting each day, with Hightower on general government and acting as vice chair of community services and Abuzuaiter chairing public safety and sitting on infrastructure.

The mayor aside, four council members don’t chair committees (though each is a vice chair): the two members who voted against the idea, the newly appointed Outling, and Barber, who has a poor attendance record at council meetings.