Has anyone else noticed that thing that happens every other year in Greensboro at just about this time?
This has nothing to do with earlier sunsets and the return of school buses to our city streets, and everything to do with the looming city council election, as well as the opportunity it presents.
Last week Greensboro City Council approved another $250,000 to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the final installment of a $1.5 million loan from taxpayers that the museum board said it needed to put the facility on solid footing.
It passed with some debate — councilmembers Mike Barber, Justin Outling and Tony Wilkins pointed out that the museum had already breached its contract with the city, rendering it void — but when all the hot air settled the $250,000 was tacitly approved without a vote.
Not saying it was the wrong move, but it sparked a bit of institutional memory.
It brings to mind another episode in 2013, a couple months before the last city council election, when a group of private investors at the last minute attempted to insert themselves into years-long efforts to bring a grocery store to the Renaissance Shopping Center. They asked for a $2 million forgivable loan, which was quickly approved by a 5-4 council vote even as staffers from the Renaissance Community Co-op group spoke against the deal at that same meeting. The pact eventually collapsed, after two councilmembers later said they felt “threatened” by the man who brokered it, intimating that he had influence over the coming election.
The common thread here is former Guilford County commissioner Skip Alston, who currently holds no office and supposedly resigned from the museum’s board in 2013, though he gave an interview with Fox 8 as a spokesperson for the museum in February.
And the pattern of high-dollar Skip Alston-related business before council seems to go back even further.
The $1.5 million loan council agreed to originated in late summer 2013, a few months after the co-op deal went bust, just after Alston resigned from the museum’s board as a move toward appeasement.
But there was another $1.5 million loan before this one, approved in August 2007, just before that city council election.
In October 2009, the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood Association asked council to accept $40 million in federal recovery bonds. By the time the vote took place in December, well after the election, Alston emerged as the real estate broker for the group.
The only lull in the pattern is 2011, but even that makes sense: That year Alston was still chair of the Guilford County Commission, and that summer he was fighting a redistricting that eventually tilted the commission to a Republican majority.
He eventually left the county commission, seeming to prefer a more favorable playing field for his capers.