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City approves greenway money
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HIGH POINT — Supporters of a long-planned greenway project in High Point have gotten a boost from the City Council.

A proposed agreement with the nonprofit Southwest Renewal Foundation calls for the use of $50,000 in city funds in acquiring purchase options for property interests for the first three phases of the proposed trail — a 3.9-mile loop beginning and ending near the city’s bus terminal downtown.

The council included a $50,000 line item for the foundation when it adopted the city’s budget in June, contingent on approval of an agreement governing how the money will be used.

The foundation will identify tracts for the greenway, submit them to the city for review and then donate them to the city once purchased.

The purchases could be in the form of easements or real property.

The vote was 7-2, with council members Wesley Hudson and Victor Jones opposed.

“We already have a policy for how to give nonprofit organizations allocations from the city,” Hudson said. “We’re ignoring the policy that we created. For some reason, we’re doing that. I don’t know what word you want to use — favors for friends? If we want to put $50,000 to a greenway, give it to parks and rec. We’re setting a bad precedent by giving a nonprofit organization money as a line item in our budget.”

Councilwoman Monica Peters, who requested the funding in the budget, said the foundation will give the acquisitions to the city.

She argued that the foundation is different from most other nonprofits that get city funds.

Officials said the plan for the southwest greenway fits in with the city’s recently adopted overall greenway master plan, which sets out priorities for future trails.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531

New political group targets Guilford non-voters

GUILFORD COUNTY — About 1 million people of color did not vote in North Carolina’s 2020 elections despite being eligible, and a new group focused on reducing that number and helping Democratic candidates win has Guilford County among its main targets.

The New North Carolina Project launched this week, hoping to replicate the success of Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Democrats in other states in expanding the electorate through community outreach and organizing.

For the 2020 election, according to the State Board of Elections, there were more than 1.9 million registered voters in North Carolina who identified as Asian, American Indian or Native Alaskan, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, other or two more races. More than 1.5 million were Black or African American. About 67% of those voters turned out in the 2020 election, casting nearly 1.3 million ballots in the state.

By contrast, there were more than 4.7 million white voters registered in North Carolina, and 79% of them cast ballots in 2020, accounting for almost 3.7 million votes.

But that was a presidential election — and one that saw 75% turnout, the highest since at least 1972. Turnout in the 2018 midterms was the highest in a midterm election since 1990 but still less than 53%.

The new group’s goal is to register and mobilize more than 100,000 eligible voters and increase voter turnout in the 2022 midterms. It is targeting the northeast, southeast and Sandhills regions of the state as well as some other pockets throughout the state, including in Guilford County.

Aimy Steele, a former Spanish teacher and school principal from Concord, is the group’s executive director. Like Abrams, Steele is a Black woman who lost a close election. In Steele’s case, she lost two state House elections in Cabarrus County, in 2018 and 2020, each by less than 3,000 votes.

“That experience taught me tons. You can’t just go into a community — white, Black — and expect people to want to show up to vote just because it’s time for an election,” Steele said. “It taught me the necessity of standing up a field operation. Having a constituency-based service entity as part of the campaign was essential.”

The New North Carolina Project’s outreach includes door-to-door canvassing, phone and text banking, in-person events and partnerships with other groups already on the ground, said state Sen. Sydney Batch, D-Wake.

“Our special sauce is meeting and talking to voters at their door, meeting them where they are. We did not do that in 2020, and the Republicans figured that out,” she said during the virtual launch event.

City seeks to diversify workforce

HIGH POINT — The city’s new diversity, equity and inclusion program is seeking to bring more women and ethnic minorities into High Point’s workforce.

Managing Director Jeron Hollis told the City Council at a recent briefing on the progress of the initiative that about 23% of the city’s roughly 1,400 employees are minorities and 26% are women.

Hollis said 2020 census data show that the city’s population as a whole is 57% minority and 53% women.

“Council has made a commitment earlier that having a workforce that reflects the demographics of the community is something that is important,” he said. “We’re in a unique area now with the opportunities we have moving forward as we’re hiring and replacing people who are leaving the workforce.”

Attention to the demographic makeup of the city workforce is a key factor in meeting the service needs of High Point’s increasingly diverse population, he said.

Research has shown that having a broader talent pool helps foster creativity, increased problem-solving, decision-making capability and alternative points of view among employees who deliver services, he said.

The city in January named Jelani Biggs as DEI officer and has budgeted a DEI specialist position that officials hope to fill in early 2022, Hollis said.

Both will partner with the Human Resources Department to start a recruitment program that will cast a wider net in seeking candidates from underrepresented populations.

An example of a new type of outreach under consideration could be working with refugee resettlement agencies in the area to make their clients aware of hiring opportunities with the city, he said.

Another step city staff is taking to implement the DEI program involves working with a consultant to conduct a survey of city employees to assess their knowledge, skills and experience related to race and equity. This probably will be done sometime in early 2022.

Hollis said the consultant recommends gathering this information early in the process of implementing DEI initiatives.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531


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