Boynton calls for mediator to resolve City Project spat
The city’s top official recommends bringing in a third party to resolve ongoing disputes over core city redevelopment efforts.
City Manager Strib Boynton wrote in an email to the City Council April 28 that disagreements about how to revitalize High Point’s urban core have led to strained relationships in the community.
Much of the dispute is between the council and The City Project, the nonprofit organization that has led redevelopment efforts since 2008. The council recently voted to cut the group’s funding.
“In recent months, High Point’s renewal efforts have slipped into animosity for this or that unnecessary reason, leaving a polarizing debacle threatening many of the most trusted and respected long-term civic relationships that are absolutely critical for High Point’s continued advancement, growth and prosperity,” Boynton wrote.
In addition to The City Project, he mentioned the High Point Partners, Hayden-Harman Foundation and the Southwest Renewal Foundation as integral to economic renewal efforts.
“Yet every group, and even some of the individuals within each group, seems to have their own and often competing and changing game plans for moving forward,” he wrote. “To advance forward, I believe they each really need very clear, open and succinct direction from (council), as the community’s elected leadership.”
Greensboro and Durham faced similar conflicts and brought in outside facilitators to help reach consensus on their downtown renewal efforts, Boynton said.
“Many relationships need restoration for HP to really advance. Like in Greensboro and Durham, outside folks were asked to help pull folks back together on a common plan, and in the process, trust and relationships were restored,” he wrote.
In emailed responses to Boynton, council members didn’t seem receptive to the mediator idea.
“I don’t know where this is coming from other than a desire, by some, to preserve the status quo. I frankly think it’s too late for that,” wrote Councilwoman Becky Smothers. “To me, it’s time to begin anew, and part of that new beginning is for (council) to decide on its own action plan for Core City. The present system does not work for me, and I sense that I am not alone.”
Councilman Jim Davis said he believes the discussion about how the city should fund redevelopment efforts is an example of the council asking tough, necessary questions.
“I didn’t think we had a problem that would require a mediator,” Davis said.
The day after the council voted on May 8 to approve only $35,000 of the $210,000 The City Project requested in 2014-15 fiscal year funding, Boynton emailed the council that his proposed budget would include $211,186 for the “core city program.”
Since it was formed in 2008, The City Project has been overseen by its own board of directors and led by Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe, whose salary is paid by the city.
Council wants to move the job away from The City Project board, which some see as ineffective and fixated on the Uptowne area at the exclusion of the rest of the core city.
“The City Project is the name of the Core City program,” Boynton emailed council on May 9.
He continued, “Since inception in 2007, (Fuscoe) has done an exceptional job of successfully securing non-city dollars to help finance the various City Project initiatives. She has sought and successfully secured $2.3 million in private dollars from foundations, grants, business and civic leaders, and others interested in and committed to the redevelopment of our various older neighborhoods. Translated, $2.3 million or 54% of the $4.2 million invested to date were not City tax dollars. City dollars total $1.9 million since 2007.”
Emails show there has been plenty of sniping about the conflict between the council and The City Project.
After he reviewed Smothers’ proposed core city action plan in advance of a council committee meeting she was chairing, City Project board member Aaron Clinard on April 28 emailed Councilman Jay Wagner, Fuscoe and fellow board members David Covington and Richard Wood about what he saw as Smothers’ intentions.
“As you already know, she likes to control things and this document she has produced is (as Chairman and otherwise) to control the conversation/lead council to her projected plan and decisions and simply put, to be the Mayor again and again relegate our Board to insignificance,” Clinard wrote.