It had been seven days since the public safety committee of Winston-Salem City Council voted to temporarily ban Bird Scooters — at least until the city can develop some regulations to control their use.
After spotting a couple Birds on University Parkway on her way to the city council meeting on Monday, Councilwoman DD Adams wanted some answers.
“To staff, chairman of public safety and public works: I think it’s imperative that the council knows whether the 1,200-plus scooters have been removed,” Adams said. “And if not, where are we in the process?”
Assistant City Manager Damon Dequenne did his best to reassure Adams.
“It was staff’s understanding that all the scooters were removed,” he said. “City forces, the day following the public safety committee meeting, removed approximately 360 scooters. Following the public works meeting the following evening, Bird representatives sent us information that their contract staff was instructed to pick up the remaining scooters. I apologize. That was my fault for not informing council. It was my understanding that all the scooters had been picked up. And I am frankly shocked to hear that you saw scooters on the way in here.”
Adams insisted that she saw scooters on her drive to the meeting. Dequenne in turn reasoned that if the scooters had been outlawed, those particular scooters must be outlaws.
“Yes, ma’am, we’ll get somebody out there to get those up,” he said. “The app has been disabled, so if those scooters are out there it’s quite possible that they’ve been hacked. Those are rogue scooters that Bird or anyone else hasn’t been able to find.”
The major public policy item on the agenda for Monday was approval of a 5-year lease to Flex Tennis LLC to operate the Joe White Tennis Center in Hanes Park and manage the city’s tennis programs at six additional courts across the city. Councilwoman DD Adams and Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke let it be known that they hold grave reservations about the firm’s ability to serve black, Latinx and inner-city residents.
Adams, who represents the North Ward, emphasized the historical significance of tennis in Winston-Salem to Kevin Fleck, who owns Flex Tennis, noting that she started playing with the Kimberley Park Tennis Club in 1976, officiated USTA matches, played and hosted tournaments, and became a certified tennis instructor.
“We lived and breathed tennis in our communities,” Adams said, reeling of the names of a handful of legendary local coaches.
“At one time Winston-Salem was ranked 25th in the United States for tennis programs and tennis infrastructure,” Adams said.
“I want to know what your plan is,” she concluded. “I hope you got one.”
Fleck responded that he plans to offer a “First Friday Tennis Party” — a community event providing free instruction, balls, rackets and pizza “for kids to enjoy and also to experience tennis.” He mentioned his ties to various city parks with tennis facilities and Winston-Salem State University, without going into much detail.
Adams indicated she was less than impressed.
“There’s some missing and important pieces here,” she said. “I’m not going to vote against you getting this contract, but I have some concerns about the involvement and engagement of African-American and Latino kids in the urban core…. I think you need a little help, and I’m willing to help. We’re paying as taxpayers for tennis courts that are not used as well as the courts that you have. Whenever I’ve gone down to play league tennis in the past few years I haven’t seen many people or kids that look like me…. I think that we’ve got an issue that we can go work on collaboratively together. And I would love to work with you on it to make it a program that all of us can be proud of.”
Council approved the contract by an 8-1 vote, with Burke casting the lone no vote.
Councilman Robert Clark, who represents the West Ward, came to Fleck’s defense.
“I think part of the confusion may be that just running the Joe White Tennis Court is just one ward [the Northwest Ward], but that’s a much different issue than running tennis programs everywhere,” Clark said. “I think part of the issue may be what we ask the company to do. I will say as a general rule tennis has been on the decline for a number of years nationally. So that’s not a political problem; it’s a national problem.”
According to the resolution approved by city council, the request for proposals for the contract sought a vendor to do both.
“The objective of the RFP was to identify and select a provider to provide full organization, administration, management and supervision of a tennis pro shop, schedule tennis programs at [the Joe White Tennis Center], Bolton, Central, Miller Park, Parkland, Oak Summit, Shaffner tennis courts, and provide annual court resurfacing,” the resolutions reads.
Annette Scippio took the oath of office to fill the vacant seat representing the East Ward, following former councilman Derwin Montgomery’s resignation to serve in the state House.
Scippio, who has previously served as executive director of Leadership Winston-Salem and Delta Fine Arts, was appointed by city council on the recommendation of East Ward members of the Forsyth County Democratic Party Executive Committee.
Scippio’s grandchildren held a Bible as the new city councilwoman took the oath of office. Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke noted that Scippio is the grandchild of Winston-Salem’s first black alderman, Kenneth R. Williams.
“I certainly love having grown up in Winston, and I certainly want the decisions that I make to ensure that my grandchildren will have a wonderful city that they will live in,” Scippio said after taking her seat on the dais. “And I always will keep in mind that the decisions I make will really reflect the heartbeat of our community — its residents. So I am very, very pleased to serve with passion, compassion and integrity.”