by Brian Clarey and Jordan Green

1. Presidential candidate visits

The presidential campaign really kicked off in the Triad more than a year ago when Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders thrilled an overflow crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center with his message of economic populism in September 2015. The pace picked up considerably after the primaries when Donald Trump spoke to a smaller crowd at the same venue in June (see Item No. 77). The importance of North Carolina was underscored by Trump’s choice to make his first appearance after the Republican National Convention at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, with a slew of GOP luminaries, including vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, US Sen. Richard Burr and Gov. Pat McCrory in tow. “I’m gonna be in North Carolina so much you’re gonna be sick and tired of me,” Trump promised. And indeed, he showed up at White Oak Amphitheater in Greensboro during the same week as President Obama, when his campaign seemed to be on the rocks because of sexual-assault allegations. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also prioritized North Carolina (in hindsight, she should have been spending more time in Michigan and Wisconsin), choosing the Joel Coliseum as the venue to make her first appearance on the campaign trail with First Lady Michelle Obama. The season ended ominously with student activists interrupting a speech by former President Bill Clinton at UNCG the day before the election, his third stop in Greensboro this election season.

2. Dejuan Yourse

Dejuan Yourse (third from left) listens to a discussion about police accountability. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)

Just as Charlotte was garnering unwelcome national attention after the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott, Greensboro City Council members reacted with horror when they viewed the police-body camera video of Officer Travis Cole pummeling and tackling Dejuan Yourse, a man who was sitting on his mother’s porch in southwest Greensboro. Cole and Officer Charlotte Jackson, who also responded to the call, both resigned, but Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson declined to press charges against either of them. City council voted to release the video, prompting a furious response from the Greensboro Police Officers Association, but the council has so far resisted calls to release files from Cole’s investigation.

3. Greensboro Distilling

Bill Norman and Shelly Johnson, who own Kneaded Energy massage in Greensboro, took up residence on a revitalized Lewis Street downtown to create the first legal distillery Guilford County has seen since Prohibition. Tiny Cat vodka and Emulsion gin are the first in a line that will soon include barrel-aged spirits and rum.

4. Affordable housing

The affordable-housing crunch hit Winston-Salem in full force in 2016, with the apartment search website RentCafé finding that the city was one of only 14 across the country where 100 percent of all projects with at least 50 units were built for the luxury and high-end markets. On Dec. 19, city council authorized a $1.6 million loan to the housing authority to acquire the troubled New Hope Manor Apartments, where local officials report widespread housing-code violations and squatting. In an effort to preserve existing, affordable housing stock near downtown, the city/county planning board turned down a rezoning request from a local developer to build a high-end hotel, housing and retail complex that would have displaced an estimated low-income 80 residents.

5. HB 2

Conservative activist Tami Fitzgerald and Lily Carollo, a transgender woman, debate outside the federal building in Winston-Salem. (photo by Jordan Green)

What’s going on with North Carolina? That’s become a frequent refrain in the national media over the past couple years, and no issue drew a harsher spotlight on the state than the law passed by the state General Assembly in special session in March that required people to use the bathroom according to the gender on their birth certificates, along with a slew of other anti-LGBT and anti-worker measures. The backlash against the law resulted in Bruce Springsteen canceling a concert in Greensboro, launching a boycott that would later mean the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pulling out from the Greensboro Coliseum as well. After Charlotte rescinded its anti-discrimination ordinance, Gov. Pat McCrory called another special session at which the controversial law was expected to be repealed, but the deal fell apart.

6. Guilford County School Board

A partisan election plan went into effect in 2016, giving Republican candidates more opportunity to compete in the general election, but Democrats managed to retain a narrow majority. About half of the members are new, thanks to the retirement of former members Amos Quick (he’s moving up to the General Assembly) and Ed Price. Former Greensboro City Council member Dianne Bellamy-Small ousted Keith McCullough during the Democratic primary for District 1 and Republican Pat Tillman snagged an open seat in District 3. Republican Anita Sharpe defeated incumbent Democrat Jeff Belton, but she’s served on the board before.

7. Greensboro Police Community Review Board

The city of Greensboro unveiled a new police community review board in 2016 and city leaders emphasized its independence, but all the members of the board are appointed by the human relations commission, themselves appointed by city council.

8. Al Heggins

Al Heggins lost her job as human relations director for the city of High Point in October 2015, and predictably she filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and seeking to enjoin the city “from racial harassment or any other employment practice that discriminates on the basis of race.” There’s no dispute that the series of disciplinary actions that led to Heggins’ firing began soon after conservative city council members complained about the use of the term “white supremacy” in a description of a presentation about police accountability, and the city’s human resources director has admitted under oath that she counseled Heggins “that using the term ‘white supremacist’ was as offensive as calling a black person a n*****.” The city has denied any wrongdoing, and in late November the parties agreed to go into mediation.

9. Renaissance Community Co-op opens

The November opening of Renaissance Community Co-op fulfills an arc of struggle for northeast Greensboro, which suffered the closure of a Winn-Dixie grocery in 1999 and whose residents successfully blocked the reopening of the White Street Landfill in 2011. The member-owned venture is also a national model of a cooperative grocery opening in a food desert, with an emphasis on healthy and affordable food.

10. Aycock Middle School

The Guilford County School Board voted in August to rename Aycock Middle School, stripping the name of Gov. Charles B. Aycock, a white supremacist who played a significant role in bringing the state into the era of Jim Crow, lasting from 1898 to 1965. The board is considering a proposal to rename the school in honor of Melvin Swann Jr., a former Guilford County educator.

11. Rich Fork Preserve

Ray McNiece and Dot Kearns. (photo by Jordan Green)

The Guilford County Commission approved a plan to allow mountain biking in the Rich Fork Preserve in High Point in a split vote along partisan lines in August, with five Republicans in favor and four Democrats opposed. The commission also voted to solicit proposals to shore up a farmstead in the 116-acre preserve, but tensions with a local advisory committee that has raised money and developed plans for the site were evident.

12. International Civil Rights Center & Museum

In December, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum announced the retirement of $36 million in complex tax-credit arrangements that financed the institution’s opening in 2010. The museum also reinstated a libel lawsuit against the News & Record, alleging that the daily newspaper “conducted a public campaign in the newspaper against the museum and its board of directors in which the defendants persistently forecast that the museum and the board of directors would fail (which they did not).” The newspaper responded with a Dec. 17 correction to a November 2014 front-page article under the headline “Museum’s debt close to $26M.” The correction concluded: “In fact, the nearly $26 million in question was in the form of tax credit grants to the museum to be used for the museum’s construction and opening. We regret any misunderstanding and confusion caused by the error.”

13. High Point Millennial Task Force

High Point City Council identified “attracting and retaining millennials” as one of three priorities for 2016. They’re pretty specific about the type they want: “active, engaged, entrepreneurial and working”; we’re not sure if that includes broke artists or low-wage restaurant workers, but it sounds like it definitely excludes gutter punks and college graduates living in their parents’ basements. City Manager Greg Demko tapped Sarah-Belle Tate, a Greensboro native, 2015 graduate of High Point University and marketing communications director for the High Point Chamber of Commerce, to lead the charge.

14. South Ward election mess

Election officials never like to see close contests because they reveal how messy the process actually is. Exhibit A would be the 2016 Democratic primary for the South Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council, where election night returns showed Carolyn Highsmith prevailing over John Larson by four votes. The state Board of Elections ordered a new election after the local election office acknowledged that at least 18 eligible voters were given the wrong ballot and prevented from voting in the race. The do-over election in June drew less than half as many voters as the first primary, and Larson dominated Highsmith by a 26-percent spread. He won handily in the November general election.

15. Chieu di Thi Vo and Tim Bloch

Greensboro City Council voted to release police body-worn video showing the fatal shooting of Chieu Di Thi Vo, a Vietnamese woman with limited English ability and an intellectual disability, responding to public pressure and a request from the woman’s family. The video provides a rare and disturbing glimpse of lethal force, showing a woman with a knife ambling down a sidewalk and then crumbling under Officer Tim Bloch’s fusillade, but the Guilford County District Attorney’s office stood by its finding that the killing was justified. A month after the release, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford) restricting public access to police-body camera video.

16. Harm reduction

The cheese that made the police body camera bill go down easier might have been an unrelated provision legalizing needle-exchange programs to allow heroin addicts to access clean needles. North Carolina already had a Good Samaritan Law that protects people who call 911 to report a drug overdose from being prosecuted for small amounts of drugs or paraphernalia, making the state a leader in the harm-reduction approach to the drug crisis.

17. Greensboro Swarm

The NBA’s D-League affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets began its inaugural season at the Greensboro Coliseum in November. They are 6-12 as of press time, on the back end of the hump in the Eastern Conference, with a lot of ball left to play.

18. Jeff Gauger resignation

Jeff Gauger took on the editor-in-chief position at the News & Record in 2012, coming in from Canton, Ohio to helm Warren Buffet’s new property. He resigned in April and is now editor of the Shreveport Times in Louisiana. Greensboro’s newspaper of record lost a substantial amount of talent this year, including political writer Joe Killian, educator reporter Marquita Brown and niche publications manager Melissa Umbarger.

19. Participatory budgeting

The city of Greensboro completed its first cycle of participatory budgeting in 2016, with residents in the city’s five council districts approving financing for dozens of projects ranging from a bus tracking mobile app to a crosswalk near the Spring Garden Street location of Hops Burger Bar for a total of $500,000. Greensboro is the first city in the southeastern United States to adopt participatory budgeting.

20. Greensboro skatepark

It only took 10 years, but the $575,000 bond for a skatepark approved by Greensboro voters in 2006 finally yielded a location — in Latham Park off of Hill Street, just north of Green Hill Cemetery — and the city collected feedback from skaters at several public meetings this year.

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