Greensboro City Council Flustered by Bill from Higher State Powers

Council members were noticeably uncomfortable while expressing their general lack of faith in a resolution to support a student prayer and religious activities bill passed by the NC House on June 4.

The resolution was introduced by Councilman Tony Wilkins, who felt that SB 370 clarified confusion among administrators and students.

The first amendment already protects the religious freedoms of students in schools. The NC ACLU opposes the bill, which it called problematic.

“The right of students to voluntarily express and practice their faith in public schools is already well-established and protected by the First Amendment,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “Some of this bill’s unnecessary and confusing language could wrongly encourage public school personnel to takes sides in student-led religious activity, making students with different beliefs feel excluded or ostracized not only by their classmates, but also by their teachers and schools.”

Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter was concerned that the bill might encourage faithful students to become more aggressive in proselytizing to their public school peers.

“I believe that moments of silence allow everyone to pray; you’re not co-mingling church and state,” said Abuzuaiter. “This allows students to distribute literature. This part concerns me.”

Mayor Vaughan voiced concern that it was not the place of City Council to take a stance on the issue. Vaughan felt that the bill was under the jurisdiction of the School Board.

“I feel that this is a resolution that should come from the School Board,” Vaughan said. “We’ve had concerns over what the legislature has been doing to us by overstepping into areas of our authority, and I feel that we would be doing the same thing here to the School Board.”

“This isn’t us telling the School Board what to do, it’s the state,” said Wilkins.

Councilman Jamal Fox also agreed that it was a School Board issue, even though he expressed his agreement with the first part of the bill, which explains what students are allowed to do while at school.

Councilman Zack Matheny felt that he had to support the resolution as an advocate for free speech, but made it clear that he was unhappy about having to vote on it at all.

“I don’t like these resolutions,” said Matheny. “We bring them up and I complain about them every time. We’re talking about something where we don’t really have any say-so whatsoever.”

Councilman Mike Barber was also frustrated by presence of the bill on the supplemental agenda, and felt it was an example of the NC General Assembly’s lack of priorities.

“Here in this Council we’re doing things where the rubber meets the road,” said Barber. “I wish our state legislators spent as much time on more pertinent issues. I commend Tony for bringing this to us but this is one that I just can’t support.”

Sharon Hightower voted to support the resolution after expressing her apprehension over the consequences of the grievance process outlined in the bill.

“When I see Raleigh stepping up to something like this I’m a little leery of the reason behind it,” said Hightower. “I’m not against religion at all. I’m just afraid that supporting this with the grievance process will get people going back and forth in court.”

Matheny and Wilkins voted to pass the resolution along with Hightower, but ultimately the bill failed to pass on a vote of three to six.

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Records show councilman’s non-profit salary

Greensboro Councilman Mike Barber took home more than $86,000 in salary as president of a local non-profit in 2012, according to the organization’s Form 990 filing with the IRS.

Barber, an attorney by trade, pushed back heavily against Councilman Tony Wilkins this week when Wilkins requested city staff provide a list of the top two salaries for each non-profit funded by the city.

In the past, the city has funded the Wyndham Championship Golf Tournament, which itself announced recently a large contribution to Barber’s program in the form of scholarships for young golfers. Those scholarships are used to pay fees that fund the non-profit.

In 2012, Barber was paid $86, 250 as president of the organization which teaches golf to young people. The executive director’s salary was also listed. That amount was $35,208. Both Barber and the executive director are listed as working full-time for the organization at 40 hours per week.

The 990 shows total revenues for 2012 of $351,252. More than $204,000 came from contributions, with $25,000 coming from program revenues. Another $120,000 came from fundraising events listed as “golf tournaments.”

As a percentage of total revenue, Barber’s salary represents 24.5 percent of the non-profit’s income. Taking out the fundraising aspect, which ostensibly should go for program services, Barber’s salary amounts to more than 42 percent of the organization’s received contributions.

The 990 shows an additional $80,041 in non-specified salaries. Total salaries for the organization eat up 57 percent of all revenues. Expenses for camps and clinics, the rationale for the organization, amount to $23, 193, or six percent of total revenue.

Barber recently voted to approve nearly $2 million in economic incentives to bring a Wyndham Hotel to downtown Greensboro. The Wyndham Championship announced last month a new scholarship program to fund an additional 75 participants in the program.