This is the latest report in a series on Greenville City Council racing.
Current members of Greenville City Council are defending their votes to allow cryptocurrency mining facilities to operate in the city, but most competitors say they need more information before deciding how they would vote.
Only one candidate, Elizabeth “Liz” Liles, who is challenging incumbent Mayor PJ Connelly, said she would have pressed for greater community involvement in the decision-making process.
In November, Minnesota-based Compute North, which describes itself as a “sustainable and profitable IT infrastructure,” was unable to locate a data processing facility near Belvoir Elementary School.
The group selected a site less than a mile from the school to house 89 modular data processing containers. Parents and other community members told officials that the loud noise from the cooling systems and electricity used by the facility would negatively affect the quality of life.
In January, Greenville City Council voted 4-2 to allow large data-processing facilities that mine cryptocurrencies to operate within the city limits without a special use permit. Two types of facilities are allowed: facilities where equipment is stored in buildings and facilities where equipment is stored in modular units.
Nathan Cohen is a financial advisor and former president of Pitt County’s young professionals running for District 3 seat. of Enabling Cryptocurrency Mining in Greenville
“I just don’t know enough of what happened to be able to tell you,” Cohen said. “I know councilors have had a lot of information and they know a lot more.”
Cohen said that before he could say which side of the argument he would fall into, he would like to have the same information as the board.
“I am someone who is very analytical and would help me to have all the facts before formulating an opinion,” he said. “Obviously, sitting in the City Council if I end up winning the election, I would have all the information and I will be able to comment on that.”
Marion Blackburn, who is also running for the District 3 seat, said she is not an expert on technical issues about a cryptographic mining operation in Greenville. However, he considers that the city council has not fulfilled the wishes of the citizens when making the decision.
“Being an expert in engineering, using energy and putting pressure on something like that is not my business,” Blackburn said. “What is my domain, as a public servant, what is our number one job? Our number one job is to listen to the people we represent. That’s what worried me about that process. “
Blackburn said the high volume of people speaking out against the data-processing facility meant officials should have a slap in the face before making their decision.
“Public officials are required to stop, pause, study, consider and listen,” Blackburn said. “I don’t think this will happen. The failure is that the council did not take into account the considerable public voice that spoke on this issue.”
Like Cohen, Blackburn said she is not sure how she would have voted if she had been on the council. She said she would ask for more studies on how a facility like Compute North would affect the area, which would prolong the decision-making process. He also said that such a decision must take into account elements of economic development and infrastructure.
“Let me make it clear: I wasn’t in the council. I wasn’t aware of all the information,” Blackburn said.
Cohen said he believes the city has done well in its economic development mission in the area. He said he hopes to be able to make decisions that will help young and mature families as a counselor.
The seat of District 3 is at stake after Councilman Will Bell announced in February his candidacy for the general seat of the council. Bell has represented District 3 since 2017 and works without opposition.
The Greenville mayor does not vote on issues unless a council vote splits 3-3. However, it is known that a mayor’s interest in an issue influences the votes of the council.
Liles said he would have pushed for more public information and information on data processing facilities. There should be several discussions in various forums, he said.
“When people feel like they’re being left out of the process, that they’re being excluded from decisions that affect their lives, it’s hurtful,” Liles said.
After Belvoir residents attended the first public discussion on Compute North’s application, they felt the deal was done, he said.
“I think that’s part of what we’re seeing right now and why there’s so much setback is because the decisions were made before people were considered in the process,” Liles said.
Connelly said City Council has responded to residents’ concerns and adopted additional rules that prevent such facilities from being located in industrial areas located in downtown Greenville. The rules also require that the facilities be located on plots that are at least 35 acres, and that there should be a 2,500-foot radius between the facilities and residential and school properties, as well as vegetative buffers along the property.
Connelly said he appreciates the time and opponents of the investigation question it. However, many of the opponents live in neighborhoods that were built after the 1960s, when Burroughs Wellcome, now the Thermo Fisher campus, was built in northern Pitt County. With that facility, it was a fact that the surrounding areas would attract different industries, he said.
“I think a lot of the discussion was based on a specific company and I don’t know if it’s fair or not,” Connelly said. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. The city has not received plans from the company.
“Right now, I don’t know of any development that is going to take place in the near future,” Connelly said.
District 4 incumbent Rick Smiley said he would like the council to be able to hold a public hearing on the in-person data processing facility ordinance instead of through Zoom.
The board canceled the face-to-face session at the last minute, citing the increase in COVID-19 infections, and instead held a Zoom meeting on January 25th. The board held a face-to-face meeting three days before the canceled session and its meeting in February. .
Smiley said people who accused the council of not investigating enough are wrong. He spent many hours reading opponents ’emails and materials about data processing facilities.
He also disagrees with the allegation that the decision was hasty.
“Anyone who comes before the City Council deserves to be treated equally and everyone deserves an opinion and a decision to be made,” Smiley said. “When we delay things it’s usually because people on both sides of the issue want an extension. But if someone says, ‘I have a proposal before you and I’d like you to make a decision,’ you’re entitled to it.”
Smiley’s opponent, chiropractor Robert McCarthy, said he did not know what position he would take when reviewing the decision of the data processing facility.
McCarthy said he followed the discussion on local radio but would like to hear directly from the company that would benefit from the new ordinance, opponents and City Council members.
“I don’t have all the details. I would consider or reconsider anything, but I have to listen to both sides for the story,” he said.
McCarthy said he might like to visit a community that has an operating data processing facility or center that is conducting cryptocurrency mining.
District 2 incumbent Rose Glover and challenger Tonya Foreman opposed the ordinance.
Glover said he could not support the ordinance because, according to his reading, cryptocurrency mining seems to be a form of gambling, not very different from the lottery. He also read about the negative effects of cryptocurrency mining on other communities.
Glover and Councilwoman Monica Daniels voted against the ordinance.
Foreman, who helped organize the original protests, said it looked like the council vote was predetermined. She is also concerned that the sites discussed to locate the facilities are in marginalized and minority communities.