May 25, 2008

Allen Johnson on DOA: How Opponents Nuked Protest Petitions While Council said .....Nothing

In the Greensboro News and Record May 25, 2008. Allen Johnson Editorial Page Editor writes a great article on how the Greensboro City Council is silent on the issue of bringing back Protest Petitions to the citizens of Greensboro which was taken away from them 37 years ago.

Click Here

Below is the article and in a future post there will be a case made by the Greensboro City Council at their May 7th meeting in regards to Protest Petitions while talking about another legislative agenda item. Stay Tune for that.

Allen Johnson: How opponents nuked protest petitions while council said ... nothing
Sunday, May. 25, 2008 3:00 am

They nuked it with silence.

A proposed bill that would have restored to Greensboro citizens what others already have in the state's other major cities went before it came on May 15.

The bill in question would have restored the right to use protest petitions in Greensboro.

A protest petition would require a two-thirds super majority (at least a 7-2 vote in favor) for the City Council to approve a disputed rezoning. To force such a vote, opponents would have to produce signatures from owners of at least 5 percent of the adjoining land.

Greensboro asked for and received an exemption to that state law that allows protest petitions in 1971. Despite the sheer reasonableness of the law, we as a citizenry have been without that right ever since, even as Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and High Point seem to have gotten along just fine with protest petitions all those years.

They're without it still.

The new bill already had a willing sponsor in state Rep. Pricey Harrison. If the county's legislative delegation simply had asked, it likely would have been a shoo-in to pass in Raleigh. All it lacked was an official request from the City Council -- which never came.

When the local legislators convened to take up the matter on May 15, it still hadn't heard from the council. As it turns out, the council didn't say yes or no to the idea. In fact, it didn't say anything. It just sucked the life out of the bill -- at least for now -- by sealing its collective lips.

"We should have had an open dialogue on the dais about this," Councilwoman Sandra Anderson Groat said last week.

Groat questioned why the council heard a briefing on the protest petition bill but never actually discussed it. When asked why legislation that works elsewhere won't work here, Groat, who is a builder by trade, shrugged. "I don't know. I absolutely don't know."

Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw, a retired real estate agent, said she was surprised as well that there wasn't a public discussion of the issue. She also said she supports the idea of protest petitions but even if she didn't, she believes the council is obligated to discuss it and that it should revisit the subject. "If it doesn't," she said, "I'll certainly bring it up."

To hear some in the development community tell it, however, protest petitions are downright un-American. Marlene Sanford, president of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, not only opposes protest petitions in Greensboro, she opposes them everywhere. "Frankly," she wrote in a letter to Guilford legislators, "the protest petition is antiquated and should be repealed statewide."

Sanford argued as well that Greensboro -- and "only Greensboro" -- already allows a "Citizens Initiative Petition where citizens can take any ordinance (including rezonings) to a citywide referendum."

That's not exactly true. The city charter does empower citizens to overturn a City Council vote by petition and referendum. (In 2003, a local group used the maneuver in a failed attempt to block the downtown baseball stadium.)

But Greensboro is hardly unique in this respect. Nine other municipalities in the state include similar provisions in their charters.

Even if the council may oppose the idea of protest petitions, it would have been useful to hear why, in the light of day. After all, there are some valid concerns. For instance, is the 5 percent threshold too low? And is Greensboro by nature so contentious that it might abuse the option? (We have tended over the years to file more petitions than other cities in the state.)

So why not debate these concerns in the open?

"My read on it is that we had a lot of things going on and this was bigger to the bloggers than the rest of the community," Councilman Robbie Perkins, a developer, said, referring to the council's overflowing plate of hot issues.

But the council's silence only feeds the perception that it is predisposed to side with developers. And, even Perkins, after raising various questions about protest petitions, conceded that the issue deserved more than a conspicuous non-answer. "This is not over," he said. "This thing is going to be discussed again." As well it should be.

Love it or hate it, the bill never got a fair hearing. More discouraging than the squelching of the idea was the squelching of the discussion.

Mayor Yvonne Johnson agreed that the council would revisit the protest petition movement. That would only be fair.

After all, you don't build dialogue with silence. And you don't build trust without dialogue. We can only hope the council will follow through on its pledges.
If not, I'd protest. And you should, too.

How many more articles, letters to the editor, guest columns, and post in this blog will it take to get the Greensboro City Council to actually deny or pass a resolution or motion on this issue. The silence is deafening.
Here is the option for the Greensboro City Council:

Go on record as supporting a bill to make Greensboro comply with North Carolina General Statute 160a-385 and 386, which never should have been taken away from the citizens of Greensboro in the first place.That means 6 months till the 2009 long session begins.


Go on record as denying the rights of the citizens of Greensboro this North Carolina General Statute and to be on the side of TREBIC which will then show the citizens of Greensboro where your allegience really stands.

Take your pick.

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