WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) – Greater Winston-Salem Inc., a principal economic development organization in Forsyth County, has come out strongly against House Bill 470, which would establish Civil Service Boards in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

The bill, introduced by three members of the North Carolina House who have small portions of the cities in their electoral districts, passed the House on a voice vote last week. If passed by the Senate, the bill would become law, because it’s a local bill that does not require Gov. Roy Cooper’s OK.

HB 470 would change city charters and create 5-person, appointed boards that critics suggest could usurp the authority of city managers and city councils. The bill received a favorable report in the House Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, sending it to the floor.

The bill, which was opposed by members of both city councils as well as police and fire chiefs, was sponsored by Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville) and Rep. Kyle Hall (R-King).

Rep. Amber Baker (D-Winston-Salem) had presented an amendment to remove her city from the bill, but Hardister opposed that amendment, and it was defeated in a voice vote.

A second amendment by Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro) to give fire and police chiefs control of one of the five spots on the board was approved.

Greater Winston-Salem Inc. said in a release that it opposes the bill because:

  • The proposed oversight committee seems redundant and duplicates efforts.
  • The bill lacks clarity about the process for the board’s role.
  • GWSI “believes the citizens’ right to elect leaders serves as oversight making the committee unnecessary.”
Rep. Amber Baker’s bid to have Winston-Salem withdrawn was defeated in a voice vote. (WGHP)

Mark Owens is the president and CEO of GWSI. Its board is comprised of representatives of more than two dozen companies and organizations that support business in the city and county. Cathy Pace, president/CEO of Allegacy Federal Credit Union, is its chair.

During discussions in the House about the bill and in comments by city leaders, there was a concern about the potential of the board to overrule the city manager and the City Council, not to mention the hired agency leaders, that was a primary concern.

Members of the Greensboro City Council also had expressed concern about additional workload and cost by the city clerks to support the boards that were not funded in the bill.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro) presents her compromise amendment during Wednesday’s House meeting. (WGHP)

Clemmons’ addition changes the appointed members of the boards to one by the City Council and one by “mutual agreement of the Chief of Police and Fire Chief” and would specify the board would not be authorized “to make any hiring decisions.” The deputy and assistant chiefs of police and fire chief would be specified as exempt from appointment to the board.

“Usually with local bills we have consensus among the local delegation,” Baker said on the House floor. “But not on this bill. … Our needs for our city are slightly different from what Greensboro needs.”

Five of seven public speakers – all leaders of the two cities – strongly proclaimed their opposition to the bill. Members of the Greensboro City Council had sent emails to question why the bill was being considered.

“We were completely unaware of any serious opposition until literally 5 minutes before the first committee meeting,” Zenger told WGHP before the floor vote.

Clemmons, whose District 57 represents the northern extremes of Greensboro, said her amendment “compromises some concerns from the leadership of police and firefighters and of the Greensboro City Council.”

Following Clemmons’ amendment, these boards’ five members would consist of one appointed by the City Council, one by police and fire leadership, two elected by the “classified service of the city” – or all groups of nonmanagers – and a person chosen by the other four.

What they would do

But it’s what the board would do that causes controversy. Clemmons suggests the bill was encouraged by the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of North Carolina and the Southern Police Benevolent Association, unions of rank-and-file first responders and law enforcement.

Scott Mullins, president of the firefighters, said in Tuesday’s hearing that his group supports the bill because it would provide “due process” in transfers, promotions and pay issues but “does not include hiring.”

Brandon McGaha, a lobbyist for the Southern Police Benevolent Association, said the bill “takes politics out of it” and provides “due process” for police officers.

Winston-Salem City Council member Robert Clark speaks and City Attorney Angela Carmon listens. (WGHP)

The fire chiefs of Greensboro and Winston-Salem, the city attorney and police chief of Winston Salem and the only Republican on the Winston-Salem City Council all spoke in the hearing against the bill on Tuesday.

Robert Clark, who described himself  as a senior member of Winston-Salem City Council, said this would mean city employees would be “no longer in charge of hiring.”

Cities are opposed

But the delegation from Winston-Salem heard the message quite clearly. Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), one of the more powerful Republicans in the House, said he was not the primary or cosponsor of the bill and had not seen it come through one of his committees but that he has “awareness and some knowledge of the bill.

“I now know the two cities are opposed to the bill,” Lambeth said. “I am not sure how it originated. I thought but do not know that the cities asked for it originally, but upon closer review that has changed.”

Rep. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem) (NCGA)
State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem)

Rep. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem), whose District 71 is in the middle of the city, said she hadn’t been involved in the bill either.

“I’m concerned that the bill would weaken the City Council and City Manager’s authority over personnel policies, and I’m aware that there’s very little appetite for the bill among members of City government,” Brown said.

“I’m glad to hear that the City’s HR Department is working to improve openness and accountability with employee concerns, and that the Fire and Police Departments are similarly working on improving transparency in their disciplinary review processes.”

There are five cities in the state – Charlotte and Asheville among them – that have similar review boards.

The original bill