We thought we pretty much had the goods on the Guilford County Commission in their handling of the open space committee.
Our reporting began on a completely different track: a controversy over land the open space committee supposedly controlled that was being proposed as a site for a mountain-biking track.
We knew that the commission had been restructured through careful redistricting in 2011 to create a Republican majority through the 2012 election, and we supposed there was an overarching agenda beneath the moves.
But it wasn’t until Jordan Green started digging on the mountain-bike story that we discovered the minutes from every meeting of the open space committee, formed by civilians empowered by a vote of the commission in 2000, had disappeared. Further investigation revealed that the very words “open space” had been scrubbed from the county website.
That’s when our alarms went off.
A month after our cover story ran [“Losing wild places”; July 8, 2015; by Jordan Green], the 13 years of minutes reappeared, found, Clerk to Board Robin Keller said, in a box that had been misplaced, like an old wedding dress, within an hour of Green’s calls to three county commissioners. But the minutes — and the county record — still did not address the dismissal of the open space committee, which was executed by a letter from then-commissioner Bill Bencini, now the mayor of High point, informing them that their services were no longer needed.
It didn’t sound right to us, and our suspicions were confirmed by Norma Houston at the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill.
“If the committee has been created by a vote of the board of county commissioners,” she said, “then only the board can dissolve the committee.”
And sure enough, minutes from a July 2000 county commissioner’s meeting show a 10-1 vote to adopt the recommendations of the Guilford Open Space Report, which included the formation of the open space committee, which held its first recorded meeting in February 2001.
Seems like a pretty clear case of governmental overreach to us. What’s less clear is how that should play out.[pullquote]It didn’t sound right to us, and our suspicions were confirmed by Norma Houston at the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill.[/pullquote]
Bencini, the author of the dismissal letter, is no longer on the commission. He didn’t return phone calls for our stories. There has been not even a whisper of a move for accountability, and certainly no law enforcement agency can act against the city or county government to which it reports, even if it is on behalf of the people getting screwed.
The incident has been described as a crime by the school of government, but a crime against whom?
The short answer: Everyone who lives in Guilford County.
And the only recourse for the wronged will come at the polls in the next election. The question is: Will voters remember this come election time, and will it matter enough to have an effect on the outcome?