#101: Winston-Salem, NC 5/1/17

No flash. No tomfoolery. The Winston-Salem city council meeting was the “salad without dressing” of municipal powwows. There were no detours, no non-sequiturs, and a heavy dosage of the dry stuff.

“The theme for Building Safety Month 2017 encourages all Americans to raise awareness of the importance of building safety,” read the council secretary in a listless monotone. “And to be mindful of fire prevention, disaster mitigation, and backyard safety.”

After checking my backyard for potential hazards, I returned to the proceedings in time for a riveting slide show of the Northwest Winston-Salem Area Plan.

“We’ve had four public meetings, very well attended,” bragged a city employee at the podium. “Overall attendance was 75 people, with about 45 individuals coming to multiple meetings.”

Let the record show: a Trump inauguration-sized crowd of people attended these meetings.

One hour in, we finally saw a spark of passion from these dying embers. Granted, it was an unlikely subject to cause a dustup: a reexamination of the 2017 property tax appraisal process.

Hear me out! It gets interesting!

“To have our properties lowered like they have been lowered,” Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke made sweeping eye contact with every person on the dais, “it must be our challenge that we let [Forsyth County] know that we don’t like what we are receiving.”

She waved her index finger menacingly next to her oversized broach, signaling that she meant business.

Council Member Denise Adams took a less ominous, more philosophical approach. “For the listening audience and others, there’s always an opportunity to change,” she leaned into the microphone and smiled. “Times change. People change.”

Fact check: TRUE–people do change.

For pure pathos, Council Member John Larson channeled the inner frustrations of many Winston-Salemites–er, Winstonian-Salemers? Winstoner-Salemanders?

“Nobody likes to see their property devalued. It’s very demoralizing.” He frowned deeply and scratched his demoralized face. “Their home is one of the most important investments they have. Individuals don’t have the stamina to take it in front of the Board of Adjustments.”

But someone who did have a trainload of stamina was Mayor Pro Tempore Burke. Suddenly no more Ms. Nice Council Member, she used Larson’s comments to light a match on her stick of rhetorical dynamite.

“It is a DISGRACE and a SHAME that we allow investors to come through and assault our neighborhoods like they have,” she thundered.

“I said to the city manager, ‘I just want you to go and look. Look at the joy and pleasure we have in keeping our neighborhoods.’ Homes are simply beautiful. We spend many dollars–mine looks like a golf course.”

She stared daggers. “Stop destroying our dreams.”

Burke: “I buried 15 land mines on my property. I dare you to come destroy my dreams.”

Finishing on a lighter note, the city manager folded his hands politely and smiled. Far from crushing anyone’s hopes, he was instead expanding their horizons.

“You’ve been asking for many years for us to reduce the use of paper. So this is our fist month using iPads for automated agendas so we don’t have to chop down all those trees.”

He paused before teasing a tantalizing piece of news. “And in a few months we’ll actually be voting with our iPads as well.”

Welcome to the future, Winston-Salem. As a great thinker once said, “Times change. People change.”

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to those 45 people who attended multiple zoning meetings. Oy vey, how did you manage?!


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