Council makes City Project split official

May. 20, 2014 @ 03:25 PM

In a move that capped off months of debate, the City Council Monday voted 7-2 to make a major change to the nonprofit organization devoted to revitalizing High Point’s urban core.
Councilman Jim Davis made a motion that council “abolish” the City Project as a city department in the budget that takes effect July 1 and direct the interim city manager to develop a job description, pay grade and city department assignment for a new position dubbed core city coordinator.
The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Becky Smothers and supported by Mayor Bernita Sims, as well as council members Foster Douglas, Jason Ewing, Jeff Golden and Judy Mendenhall.
Council members Britt Moore and Jay Wagner were opposed to the move.
Since it was formed as a nonprofit 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 members argue that the City Project has little to show for the public dollars that have been put into it over the years and is too focused on the Uptowne area at the exclusion of the rest of the core city.
Monday’s move is aimed at shifting Fuscoe’s responsibilities so that she oversees redevelopment efforts throughout the entire core city but is no longer affiliated with the City Project board.
“The intent is not to abolish the individual. The intent is to change the job, which, hopefully, the individual will continue to do,” said Smothers.
The move wipes out the $211,186 in City Manager Strib Boynton’s proposed budget that would have effectively continued the current arrangement, including $103,208 for the director’s salary, along with $31,658 in benefits and allowances.
Monday’s motion directed Assistant City Manager Randy McCaslin, who will take over as interim manager when Boynton retires July 1, to determine the pay for the new job.
The vote was the latest in a heated and public battle between council and the City Project.
Wagner, a staunch supporter of the organization, said he thought it was underhanded for council to take the vote while City Project representatives were out of the chambers.
“They didn’t bring up that they were going to do this when everybody was in the room. They chose to hide it and be deceitful about it,” said Wagner.
But Mendenhall pointed out that council has been talking about restructuring the job for months. She said Monday’s move accomplishes two main objectives: ending an arrangement in which a city employee serves as a full-time director of an outside nonprofit agency — which she and others on council view as improper — and ensuring that all eight core city districts get attention. 
Mendenhall said the new coordinator will be able to work with groups like the City Project, as well as other agencies throughout the urban core.
“This has been discussed for months. As far as I’m concerned, there has been ample notification that the intent of some of this council was to reorganize the position,” she said.
Wagner said it’s not fair for council to dictate the duties for the new position.
“I think there are some of them that simply don’t like the City Project folks, and they see this as an opportunity to kill it off,” he said. “Now they’re going to take (Fuscoe) and push her into a city department, and the way it sounded, possibly cut her pay? It sounds like a classic squeeze-out.”
Wagner said it appears that the intent of Monday’s move is to force Fuscoe out.
“I have a strong suspicion that’s the goal. If they have problems with her, I wish they would come out and say what they are, because I think she’s done an outstanding job and a lot of other people do as well,” he said.
Fuscoe said she doesn’t know yet whether she’ll pursue the new position.
“I have enjoyed so much doing what we were doing and I believe we were making headway. Certainly, there were disagreements about the road diet or sea-cans and the different projects Duany proposed, but I think we did have the community rallied around the need to revitalize and the need to focus,” she said.