By Chad Nance
“If you smell something, say something.”
On Friday August 7th the Winston-Salem City Council called a special meeting between themselves and our legislative delegation – the group of men and women who are supposed to be representing our interest in Raleigh. The entire enterprise went from a polite and cautiously political discussion to a vivid and disheartening display of exactly how twisted, useless, and clueless the people of the North Carolina legislature can truly be.
What did these people we have sent to Raleigh have to say for themselves? Basically: They have no power. They can’t do a damn thing, and by the way, the only solution for the problem is for you to elect them all again. This reporter has never in my career seen a more vivid case made for term limits.
Four members of the legislative delegation made the meeting. Sen. Joyce Krawiec, Rep. Donny Lambeth, Rep. Ed Hanes, and Rep. Debra Conrad were all in attendance. Sen. Paul Lowe, Rep. Julia Howard, and Rep. Evelyn Terry did not attend, nor did they send any representatives.
The entire City Council, minus James Taylor, attended along with the Mayor. Police Chief Barry Rountree, Randall Tuttle (former Chair of Creative Corridors), and current BID chairman Ralph Womble were also there along with several City of Winston-Salem employees and City Manager Lee Garrity. Southeast Ward Councilman James Taylor was ironically in Raleigh at the Department of Transportation with students for the HBCU Summer Internship Program, an event that was planned before Mayor Joines called Friday’s meeting.
Let’s get this out of the way- I have never been prouder of our City Council, Mayor Joines, and the good people who work for us in the City of Winston-Salem. City officials treated the state legislative delegation with grace, decorum, and self-control. The same could not be said for members of the Raleigh delegation – they regularly talked among themselves as city officials were speaking like a bunch of unruly and disrespectful kids..
In one infuriating moment, former Creative Corridors chairman Randall Tuttle was speaking, explaining exactly how our Business 40/421 renovation/beautification would be funded, while Rep. Lambeth and Rep. Conrad were talking loudly to each other like middle school kids. After Mr. Tuttle’s presentation the delegation let him know how much they care about this project and about the city. He offered the floor for questions and was answered by a clueless and arrogant silence.
The entire scene was disgusting. Maybe it can’t be helped, though. It is beginning to look like a Raleigh insider mentality is now oozing down the pipeline, and in that room the fecklessness and avarice of our state legislature was on full and putrid display. The legislators, both Republican and Democrat, said that their hands are tied. There is nothing they can do… and that the City of Winston-Salem should probably just go along with the corrupt and elitist Raleigh culture and hire a lobbyist.
“Goes without saying that there is an assault on us in many ways,” Mayor Joines said, opening the meeting. Everyone in the room knew that Winston-Salem and other urban areas in North Carolina are under direct and aggressive assault by the State legislature. The most egregious attacks such as attempting to take control of Wake County’s School Board (the only school system to successfully integrate in the US) or Greensboro City Council through forced redistricting have been slapped down in court. Some of those, like the issues discussed on Friday, leave cities with no real recourse.
First up were budget provisions that would allow 15% of the people who live or own property downtown to tie up the recently, and successfully, implemented BID to be held hostage waiting for further votes. Mr. Womble explained that the majority of the people living downtown are renters. Allowing this provision to go forward would give renters the power over the men, women, and companies who own property in downtown Winston-Salem and allow the BID to become snarled in an endless cycle of nonsense. “People who are the least affected have the biggest voice.” Mr. Womble stated. He pointed out that the BID has helped raise the level of service and that there have been “dramatic improvements” in the cleanliness and functionality of downtown.
The legislators looked befuddled and when asked by Councilwoman D.D. Adams if they’d heard about these budget provisions. “Not something we discussed.” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec.
Rep. Ed Hanes tried to explain how it could have gotten by them telling everyone that, “These things can also make their way in during the negotiations on the floor.“
Rep. Donny Lambeth told the city that, “We understand your concern and we are on the same page.” Everything seemed to be going well, then…
Discussion turned to HB 168, legislation that would allow builders and developers to pay no taxes on property until it was fully developed, for up to 5 years. Three years into the implementation of this tax giveaway the City of Winston-Salem could lose as much as $850,000 a year from our budget. (Yes, fellow tax payers, this is our money to be handed over to wealthy developers.) On top of that, the City would still have to provide services like fire protection and security from the WSPD, not to mention water, sewer, and road maintenance.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec first told a rambling story about how her company bought a piece of property for $3.1million and then asked for city annexation. Once it was annexed and services were provided she boo-hooed that the value of the property went up to $7.1million. She then made the tired, old threat that developers would not build or develop in Winston-Salem if our city didn’t offer this subsidy to developers.
What followed was a moment worthy of Marie Antoinette or Hillary Clinton. “All developers are not wealthy,” Krawiec said. “Some are very poor.” Clearly Krawiec hasn’t got the first idea what “poor” or “wealthy” mean. These statements show who Joyce Krawiec works for and it isn’t her constituents. (Of which I am one.)
“They are asking the citizens of Winston-Salem to subsidize developers.” Mayor Joines said.
“I thought my party went to Raleigh to reduce exemptions,” West Ward Councilman Robert Clark stated. “I see this as contrary.” Councilman Clark went on to push back against Krawiec’s threat, explaining that builders and developers worry more about the interest they pay on their construction loans than they do the property taxes they pay as they develop.
North Ward councilman Jeff Macintosh, a real-estate agent, developer, and builder himself refuted Krawiec’s nonsense saying, “In our market if you sit on a property for three years, that is a failure. We don’t have a lot of unoccupied housing stock.”
South Ward Councilwoman Molly Leight was even more blunt. “If you are a member of this community you pay your taxes. If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get services… no taxes, no service.”
“If a building burned down, the same business person would want to know why the fire wasn’t put out,” Councilwoman Adams said.
Rep. Debra Conrad is the only legislator to flirt with outright honesty when she told everyone that developers had done a really good job “selling” this legislation to lawmakers. It was everything I could do not to stand up and yell at her, “But you work for the people, Deb- not developers!”
Rep. Hanes stated the obvious, “What I have heard today is compelling for sure… “We need to be more diligent to reach reach back and hear from City Council.” Hanes went on to suggest that “Lines of communication” must be kept open.
Southwest Councilman Dan Besse told everyone, “We’ve got to work down the road with infrastructure spending. In the mean time the regular tax paying folks will be paying.” He suggested that local governments be able to opt out. Kraweic came right back with more threats that developers wouldn’t come to Winston-Salem and would go to Surry County instead. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. Development follows populations. markets, and services.
While members of City Council and the Mayor seem to grasp the ethical and moral problem of asking middle class taxpayers to subsidize private ventures by wealthy developers, no member of the Raleigh delegation seemed to understand that real money and real damage to our city was at stake… or they just didn’t care.
The biggest issue of the day was the state legislature going back on prior budget arrangements and pulling $4million dollars off of Winston-Salem’s B40/421 renovation/beautification. “This is a once in a lifetime chance to improve our front door,” Mayor Joines said. He called on Randall Tuttle to explain to the state delegation exactly what is at stake.
Basically the state legislature in its arrogance and malice decided to single Winston-Salem out for abuse and not fund aesthetic improvements but give us just the bare bones. Nevermind that Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, and other communities have had NCDOT pay for aesthetic improvements when new retaining and sound walls were constructed.
“I just ask that we be treated like everyone else. The roads seem to get prettier the closer you get to Raleigh.”
“Everyone seems to have a belt-way, but us. Everyone has brick retaining walls, but us,” pointed out Councilman Clark.
Tuttle explained that this project has been in process for ten years, steered by Creative Corridors. Everyone knew this was coming. NCDOT was fully committed to the effort and saw the renovations as a project they would be able to tout as iconic- like Winston-Salem.
$13Million dollars of the overall budget is coming from the City of Winston-Salem. $5million dollars for the iconic bridges and other innovative, green landscaping features is coming from private donors. The only part the state had promised was $4million for the improvements to the sound walls. We wouldn’t even put in those sound walls, except that it is a Federal requirement. So now the state has reneged on their promise.
Hearing this, did our legislators rise up in indignant and appropriate defence of their constituents and their city from the petty political attacks coming from the swine in Raleigh? Not even once. Instead they explained that they have no power to do anything. Debra Conrad made a baffling and incoherent political defence claiming that the cut was made because Governor Pat McCrory, awash in honesty and good will, had eliminated all political patronage and legislative pork.
Krawiec enthusiastically gave hollow praise to Creative Corridors claiming to show everyone who comes to their office the “Lovely book” that Creative Corridors had created. Then she admitted that when she’d tried to contact Speaker of the House Tim Moore and President Pro Tem of the State Senate Phil Berger they had not returned her calls. “Sen. Lowe and I have worked on that. I don’t feel good about it.” As one of her constituents I can fairly say that Sen. Joyce Kraewic is useless to us and is an total failure as a legislator. Why would we want another useless politician in Raleigh working for big money donors and against the self interest of the community she pretends to represent?
This was when Randall Tuttle was treated with disdain by the rude Conrad and Rep. Donny Lambeth as they behaved like children and talked over his presentation. What seemed to lose their attention was when Mr. Tuttle pointed out that the B40/421 upfit would help to heal the deep and abiding wounds created in this city by US 52 and 421 which cut the city up along racial lines and helped create dissent and division in our city. Apparently those are historical realities and community disunity that Conrad and Lambeth just don’t care about.
Rep. Hanes threw his hands up saying, “It’s very difficult to get ahead of Nelson Dollar.” He went on to explain that only staying in office for decades allows you to have any say in legislation. Bryan “Wasp 101” Holloway from Stokes County has more power than anyone in our entire delegation. That’s right folks. A little sissy boy who managed a website where he talked about women’s “mammary” glands and posted pictures of himself half clothed (before lying about creating the website in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) has more power than Winston-Salem in the circle jerk that is the state legislature. It’s simply pitiful and disgusting.
When the Mayor and the Chief of Police explained why Winston-Salem is not a “Sanctuary City” (A term that has been latched onto by racist like Donald Trump) Rep. Debra Conrad not only didn’t defend Winston-Salem, she suggested that the racists are correct then went on a baffling ramble that sounded like something out of a race-baiting national campaign and not a lawmaker representing their city.
By the end of the meeting the delegation had offered no proactive or even reactive steps. They just all sat there in their chairs and explained why they can’t do anything for us at all… unless we just keep re-electing them for years until they outlive the legislators from other places. The only suggestion they had was that we could go out right now and pay a lobbyist to represent our interest. I guess they don’t understand what it means to be an elected representative – hint: they are supposed to represent our interests in Raleigh.
This isn’t a partisan political issue. In fact, when it comes to local issues in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, voting for someone because of their party affiliation is a dumb way to vote. This is a clear issue of us versus them. Winston-Salem vs. the culture of corruption in Raleigh that has been in existence for decades. There were people in that room who have gone to Raleigh and completely forgotten those of us here at home who sent them there. They care more about getting along and being pals than standing up for the people of this city.
Clearly we are going to have to do this on our own because our legislative delegation doesn’t seem to care what happens back home- except that we keep giving them golden tickets to Raleigh where they can do nothing on the taxpayers dime. Either get on with it, people, or get out of the way and shut up. You’re either for us… or you’re against us, and don’t come looking for votes in 2016 unless you have something to show for your time in that cesspool on Jones Street.
*This column identified no politicians by party. There was no point in that tired exercise.