Bid Protest Denied By GTA Board

At the Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) board meeting on Wednesday night, an out-of-court hearing was held to determine whether the board would uphold or deny the protest petition from First Transit.

First Transit filed the bid protest on May 15 after a bidding process resulted in GTA deciding to approve a contract with Veolia, the company that has run the bus transit system in Greensboro since 2002. First Transit argued that the bid process had been, “arbitrary, capricious and wrongful.”

First Transit currently runs bus transit systems in over 250 cities, including Raleigh’s Wolfline at NC State.

Tom Terrell, the attorney representing First Transit, argued that the bid process was flawed. The selection committee of eight evaluated the contracts using a cumulative scoring process, so that even though five of the members of the selection committee scored First Transit higher, Veolia had the overall better cumulative score. First Transit contended that this was unfair.

First Transit accused the selection committee of being biased towards Veolia due to the City’s preexisting relationship with the contractor. James Dickens, the attorney representing GTA, denied this.

Even though First Transit submitted a less costly proposal than Veolia, the selection committee used what Dickens called “qualitative components” to determine which contract had the “best value”. First Transit contested this process as arbitrary and argued that the selection committee therefore did not choose the contract that presented the “best value.”

First Transit disputed the selection committee’s assessment while adding that it was irresponsible of the committee to choose a more costly contract when the GTA was in the midst of financial struggles.

Mike Fox represented Veolia and accused First Transit of being sore losers and lashing out at the GTA. In response to First Transit’s protest Fox said, “It’s an attack on your process because they weren’t chosen.”

Fox warned the board that upholding a protest bid such as this one could open the door for any other contractors to file a protest with the City just because they lost out on a bid.

Fox said, “If you go down this road then you’re setting up a terrible precedent.”

After all parties presented their case, GTA board members briefly discussed the matter. The board came to the conclusion that the real question at hand was whether or not the bid selection process had been fair.

Ultimately the board decided that they felt the bid selection process was good and that it had been fair. The board voted to deny the petition protest from First Transit. The only dissident vote came from Kristen Jeffers, a blogger for The Black Urbanist.

After the GTA board’s vote, First Transit was informed that they had three days to file an appeal to Greensboro’s City Council. If First Transit does not appeal the decision then the denial from the GTA board will be final. If First Transit does appeal, then City Council would be faced with the decision to go against a branch of their own city government or risk First Transit filing a lawsuit in response to an unfavorable decision.

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Duke Energy assigns new district manager for Guilford County

Duke Energy has shifted assignments for two of its 15 district managers as one of the company’s top community representatives picks up new responsibilities in Virginia.

As the clean up continues in the wake of the coal ash spill along the Dan River near Eden, District Manager Davis Montgomery has represented Duke across the state line in Virginia. Montgomery was the district manager for Alamance, Guilford and Rockingham counties when the coal ash spill occurred in February.

Duke Energy has no customers in Virginia, and at the time of the spill had no established government liaison with communities along the Dan River in that state, said Mike Hughes, Duke Energy’s vice-president of local government and community relations in North Carolina. Montgomery picked those duties up and has represented the company in communities like Danville, South Boston and Clarksville.

Hughes said that the company recognizes the river remediation and long-term plan to deal with coal ash will have implications for communities downstream from the shuttered Dan River Steam Station outside of Eden in Rockingham County. So the company split Guilford County from its previous grouping. Randy Welch, the current district manager for Cabarrus, Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, will take over management of Guilford County.

In the new set up, Montgomery will focus on relations along the Dan River basin, from Rockingham County to the Kerr Reservoir. He will also continue to manage Alamance County for Duke Energy. Welch will manage Guilford, Rowan and Davie counties.

Montgomery announced the move in an email to local government officials on May 18. In the note he said his new assignment could last from one to two years. The new assignments are supposed to be in place by the end of this week.

Duke Energy is currently working to remove the largest deposit of coal ash identified, a 25,000-ton mixture of coal ash and river sediment that’s settled just east of the Schoolfield Dam outside of Danville. Hughes said the company is using a dredge to attempt removal. The work is progressing, but is hampered by recent rains that cause river volume to swell.

The company has taken over a municipal park in Danville in order to access the sediment deposit, according to Montgomery, and is paying the city $2,500 to make up for lost user fees. Montgomery said they hope to vacate the park in July.

Hughes said that a second, smaller deposit closer to the spill site has also been identified. Both deposits are stable, Hughes said, having settled beneath river sediment.

The long-range plan to deal with 100 million tons of coal ash in 33 basins across North Carolina will be an ongoing issue, Hughes said, that could be of concern to communities downriver.

He emphasized that Duke Energy wanted to have a liaison available during that process.

“We don’t know how long it will warrant, but as along as it is warranted, we will have somebody there,” Hughes said.

 

Local Pastor Arrested at Tillis Sit-In

(Photos taken by Reverend Julie Peeples)

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A Senior Pastor from Greensboro was part of the group that organized a sit-in at the office of Thom Tillis in Raleigh. Revered Julie Peeples of Congregational United Church of Christ said that Reverend William Barber asked if she and other clergy involved in Moral Mondays would be willing to consider an act of civil disobedience in order to engage legislators in conversations.

Peeples said, “We’re asking them to repeal the very very harmful laws from last year that we are now seeing damage from.”

A group of 15 people that included clergy, low-wage workers, a retired teacher and a housing employee went to Tillis’ office at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Moral Monday leaders choose to try and engage Tillis because of his current role in state legislation.

“So much of this is in his hands,” said Peeples. “We felt it was crucial for him to hear the stories of his constituents and people in this state who are just not making it.”

Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Peeples has been with Congregational United Church of Christ for 23 years. As a woman of the church, Peeples expressed a feeling of Christian obligation to be a part of the protest.

“It’s where Jesus would be,” said Peeples. “Jesus told us to love our neighbor and you can’t love your neighbor when you are creating poverty around them.”

Tillis was not at his office, so the group told his executive assistant, William Morales that they would remain where they were until Tillis returned. Peeples said that the protestors read scripture, prayed together and sang traditional gospel and protest hymns like “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” along with “Amazing Grace.”

But it was the accounts of personal struggle from other protestors that really resonated with Peeples. Peeples said, “I felt so privileged to really get to hear the stories, especially from the young people.”

Peeples said that one young woman was fighting cancer and unable to receive health insurance, and another woman was five and a half months pregnant and just wanted to be able to make more money at her low-wage job so that she would be able to feed all of her children. The most heartbreaking stories for Peeples came from those who were forced to choose between receiving heath care and buying food.

The sit-in continued for almost 11 hours until 2:15 a.m. Wednesday morning when protestors were taken to the Wake County jail and detained for five hours.

Her congregation knows about Peeples’ political actions, and some members of the church have also been involved with Moral Monday events.

Peeples said, “They have been very aware of my involvement and supportive of that”

Peeples said that she would continue to try and engage in dialogue with legislators through Moral Monday and other initiatives. Peeples also hopes to help emphasize the importance of voter registration to continue to make people’s stories known.

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Greensboro Looks for Creative Ideas to Improve Budget

Members of Greensboro’s City Council are brainstorming to find any last-minute ways to decrease City expenditures in the budget before presenting a public hearing on the proposal on June 3.

At a work session on Tuesday afternoon Council members looked for creative solutions that wouldn’t force the City to cut services or City employees.

While Councilman Jamal Fox praised the City Manager for increasing the number of vacation days for City employees from 11 to 12, Councilman Zack Matheny thought it was a bad idea.

“I don’t like that. We’ve already got good vacation here,” said Matheny. “The City needs to be open to the people.”

Fox and Matheny did agree on increasing false alarm fees. The Fire Department currently spends $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. The current fee is $50 for the second false alarm from a location, but increasing that fee to $100 would make up for that sunk cost.

“People are going to be mad at you,” said Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson to Fox.

Councilman Tony Wilkins offered the suggestion that the City could start charging user fees for leaf collection. Most other members of Council were strongly against the idea and felt the revenue gained from the fees might not even make of for the cost of implementing such a collection program.

“What about selling them oversees then,” said Wilkins, “We have some good nutrient-rich leaves here.”

Wilkins also suggested increasing ticket prices at the Coliseum by $1. Mayor Vaughan was receptive to the idea and agreed with Councilwoman Sharon Hightower that a $1 ticket increase would not deter people from purchasing tickets that are $35 or more to begin with.

The subject of parking at the Coliseum led to Council to another creative solution. Wilkins expressed frustration that you must have cash in the form of singles to pay for parking at the Coliseum and suggested the City create a way for people to pay for parking in advance and with their credit cards when they first buy their ticket online. The City of Raleigh already has a similar system for the Raleigh Amphitheatre.

“This is 2014 and you can’t buy concessions or park with a card,” said Wilkins

Mayor Vaughan liked the idea and even took it a step further by suggesting that Greensboro residents receive preferred parking at Coliseum events.

There will be another work session to review and tweak the recommended budget before its adoption in mid-June.

Teen Summit Planned for Next Saturday in Greensboro

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The City of Greensboro is hosting a summit to inform teens about programs and community events they can do over the summer.  The Teen Summit will be held on downtown on Saturday, May 31st.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower promoted the event at the end of the last City Council meeting and again at the end of the East Greensboro Study Committee meeting on Thursday afternoon.

“There’s going to be free food, it’s going to be fun and hopefully it will encourage kids to stay busy and out of trouble,” said Hightower.

Guildford County School students end the school year on June 19th this year. For a bored, unsupervised kid with working parents and nothing else to do, summer vacation can lead to problems.

The City Summit will have more than 15 local service providers there to advise and inform teens about different career paths and how they can get involved in their communities.  Members of City Council will also be there to encourage teens to get participate in local government.

The Teen Summit will be held from 3-6pm on Saturday at the Greensboro Cultural Center on 200 N. Davie Street.

Hydropower Settlement Reveals $25M Retention Fund in Greensboro

Deliberations over a Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority hydropower lawsuit settlement caused City Council to review the current $25 million risk retention fund for the city of Greensboro.

Council members expressed concern that residents might continue to sue the city even if the City approved the $1.2 million settlement.

“As long as there are lawyers on the face of the earth, we can’t do anything to protect ourselves,” said Tom Phillips, current Director of Piedmont Triad Water Authority for the City of Greensboro.

Council asked Phillips, a 22-year veteran for the Water Authority, to share his thoughts on whether or not the settlement was fair. “I wouldn’t say it’s fair, but it’s reasonable,” said Phillips

“It appears that a lot of dirty politics played out in this decision,” said Councilman Tony Wilkins. Wilkins then referred to reports that the judge in the case had ruled in favor of a company associated with Senator Kay Hagan’s husband after Senator Hagan had nominated the judge to a lifetime appointment.

“I could talk all night about the things that were wrong with that case,” said Phillips.

Despite the dirty politics the Water Authority had voted in agreement with the settlement almost unanimously.

Ultimately City Council decided that a settlement was in the best interest of the City and passed the item.

“If we vote against this then we are voting against our own interlocal government,” said Mayor Vaughan. “It’s not a great decision but it’s one that I feel we are bound to go with.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower then asked where the City would get the money for the settlement. Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland explained that the City has a $25 million risk retention fund to cover liability claims.

This was news to most of City Council, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan. Greensboro City Attorney Tom Carruthers said that the City of Greensboro puts about $2 million into the fund each year.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Mayor Vaughan, who struggled with the reasoning behind maintaining such a large fund that rarely experiences a significant payout.

The fund covers four types of liabilities, including legal protection of City Council members.

Carruthers said that the litigation surrounding the 2006 Duke Lacrosse case had exhausted the City of Durham’s legal resources.

“It sounds like you have seen what other cities keep in their policies,” said Councilwoman Marikay Abuzaiter in defense of Westmoreland’s maintenance of the fund. “This is not just something that’s out of the blue and hasn’t been well vetted and researched.”

Council postponed a vote to continue paying into the resource fund until they could have time to review the fund’s balance history for the last 10 years.

Defamation settlement “a fait accompli,” source says

A settlement in the defamation lawsuit filed by four people associated with Conservatives for Guilford County against a prolific Greensboro blogger is “a fait accompli,” according to a source close to the process.

Two couples sued local blogger Jeff Martin, who uses the pen name “Fecund Stench,” over a series of satirical blog posts that the plaintiffs say were untrue and cast them in a false light.

Martin was served with the lawsuit May 2 and indicated early in the process that he would settle the dispute for a variety of personal reasons. Since that time details of a potential settlement emerged, but even the most casual observers noted errors of fact and potential problems with the scope of the settlement.

According to information obtained by YES! Weekly, the settlement issue is moving forward after the incorrect URL cited in the lawsuit was amended to reflect Martin’s most recent WordPress-hosted blog. The initial lawsuit and first settlement referenced a web address Martin ceased using in 2010, which was outside the scope of the court document filed in February.

Additionally,  the settlement now contains a provision that would allow Martin to keep copies of his blog material, which he deleted on May 2, as long as he does not republish or distribute the content objected to by the plaintiffs.

Martin published widely read accounts of his work as a temporary laborer and was noted for his discussion of global financial and international affairs, in addition to his acerbic posts about local politics. Folks commenting on the lawsuit, mostly at Ed Cone’s well-read blog, urged Martin to preserve those writings. The settlement maintains strident provisions that Martin delete the material regarding the plaintiffs and not cause it to be republished.

The first settlement required Martin to delete all copies of the posts, even from cached and third-party storage, something some doubted was possible. The current settlement inserts the language “over which he has control.”

According to a source close to the negotiations, one set of parties has already signed the agreement, which is moving toward closure in the coming days.

Martin is now blogging at a different WordPress URL, but his blog in dispute appeared to have been restored earlier this week, though password protected.

Reached via email, Martin said he planned to keep a low profile until the settlement became official.

The settlement retains stipulations that Martin not post photos of the plaintiffs that might be considered private, and that he not speak publicly or publish material about three of the plaintiffs. Posts about the fourth plaintiff, Brett Riddleberger, are required to adhere to factually true statements, according to the document.

When asked if he knew prior to filing the defamation lawsuit about Brett Riddleberger’s conviction for indecent liberties with a minor, the plaintiff’s attorney declined to comment, citing attorney client privilege.

Martin often constructed salacious scenes that involved Riddleberger at strip clubs owned by Doug Adkins, another of the plaintiffs and an early financial backer of Conservatives for Guilford County. Much debate surfaced during discussions of the lawsuit regarding what clubs Adkins owns.

According to records on file with the city of Greensboro, the NC Secretary of State and the ABC licensing office Adkins currently owns Centerfolds on Veasley Street and Copa Rocka Cantina on Sands Drive. A third club, Mirage on Burnt Poplar Road, was converted to Jeff Melendy in 2013, according to city records. The controlling corporation, National Golf Distributors LLC, was owned by Doug Adkins until May 2012.

City privilege license records list a third plaintiff, Isabella Adkins, as the contact person for Copa Rocka Cantina and Centerfolds.