05/10/17 — Clashing council sluggish on issues

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Clashing council sluggish on issues

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on May 10, 2017 9:57 AM

Mayor Chuck Allen

Mark Stevens

Gene Aycock

David Ham

Bevan Foster

Bill Broadaway

Antonio Williams

Mayor Chuck Allen can't remember a time during his 19 years in office when the Goldsboro City Council has been more contentious.

The council for several months has continued to have intermittent clashes over city policies, diversity and personnel decisions made by the city manager.

In early February, a heated exchange involving Allen, Mayor Pro Tem Bevan Foster and Councilman Antonio Williams sent the board into closed session because issues related to Police Chief Mike West surfaced.

At the time, the local NAACP branch called on city leaders to reprimand the chief for activity on his personal Facebook page that included support of President Trump.

In March, the NAACP called for the resignation of City Manager Scott Stevens, who declined to take action against the chief because West had not violated any city policy.

The NAACP call was later acted on by the council when Foster made a motion to remove the city manager from his post. Foster's motion was supported by Williams but failed in a 5-2 vote, with the rest of the council supporting the manager.

At nearly every city council meeting, Foster has added to the meeting agenda a list of items he's interested in discussing. Most of the items have been discussed at almost every city council work session, without much resolve, since early February.

And the list is getting longer, with the same items included on the April 4, 17 and May 8 meeting agendas. The agendas also list timelines for accomplishing certain goals, like reading hundreds of pages of city ordinances and being prepared to discuss changes within 30 days.

"I'm not going to do that," said Councilman Bill Broadaway.

Some of the discussions Foster has brought up include diversity in the workplace, education requirements for city department leaders, establishing a whistle-blower policy for city employees and rules and regulations for city government.

During Monday's council meeting, Foster said, on more than one occasion, that he does not trust decisions made by the city manager.

Allen, who said some of the items are valid, said that a lot of the topics aren't under the purview of the city council. Many items are handled by city administration, including the city manager.

"A lot of things they're wanting to change, we don't control," Allen said.

Councilman Mark Stevens said the council can only amend current ordinances.

"There are ordinances and laws that were approved years ago, but they can't be changed," Stevens said. "It can be amended."

Stevens also said some issues regarding city personnel shouldn't be discussed by the council. Stevens doesn't think the same items need to be on the meeting agenda every time they meet.

"I don't think they need to be on the agenda every week," Stevens said. "Councilman Foster has his set agenda and really wants the city to grow and do wonderful things, but, I think, there's other ways to go about it.

"I believe that we're not getting anything done for the citizens of the city when we're arguing over the same issues. The important issues are making sure the citizens have the things they need to survive, like safe streets to drive on and jobs that they can go to."

Stevens said he hopes the council can move beyond the disagreements.

"I believe that collectively we can come together and positively change the city of Goldsboro," Stevens said.

Other members of the council say time could be better spent on city business, such as reviewing the proposal to implement new stormwater fees to increase citywide maintenance. Discussions regarding the stormwater fee have been delayed several times due to the other discussions.

More than one member of the council said that the atmosphere of the council meetings is negatively affecting the morale of city department leaders.

"There is tension there, and I really don't know how to solve it," Broadaway said. "There's tension in the room every time. I think there's a sense of frustration from personal agendas when we have plenty of work to do.

"I think it has taken the focus off items that are very important. We can't get to issues because we're working on personal agendas."

Councilman David Ham made a motion during the April 17 council work session to remove Foster's list of items from the agenda, a move that led to Foster laughing during the meeting. Foster and Williams voted against the motion, which passed by a 4-2 vote.

Councilman Gene Aycock was absent from the meeting but said he would have supported removing the items.

"I thought that the matters that were on the agenda were repeats of what was on the agenda before," Aycock said. "I don't think some organization's agenda should be the council's agenda. I don't know if the actions requested by Councilman Foster were things that he was looking at or some organization was looking at and he was being their spokesman."

Aycock declined to say what organization he is referring to, and said that naming a group could spark more conflict.

While each member of the council has the ability to bring up topics for discussion, there should be more order to the process, Aycock said.

Aycock also believes the council is headed in the wrong direction, with discussions and disagreements that have surfaced during the past several months.

"I don't like the direction it's going," Aycock said. "Whether it be in the right direction or the wrong direction, I don't like where it's headed. I think we could use our time doing more good for the community on issues that affect the community."

He also believes that members of the council should show respect to each other, instead of arguing or raising their voices.

"I don't have to yell at somebody to get my point across," Aycock said. "There is some discussion about how to bring (the council) back to more civil discussions. We've got to have that if we're going to move forward."

During the May 8 meeting, the council decided to review Foster's list of items and agreed with seeking out potential costs of hiring a consultant to update city hiring requirements. Foster has sought for months to have detailed job requirements, out of concern that employees may be hired for other reasons than their qualifications.

As for the direction of the council, Ham is concerned about division on the board and the potential that the public may question the effectiveness of their leadership.

"I'm concerned about it creating divisiveness among the city council," Ham said. "It's also creating concerns by members of the city staff, as well as presenting a negative impression of the city council and its ability to be constructive."

Ham said Foster's topics should offer a solution the council can act on.

"If you're going to offer a complaint or criticism of something, then you should offer a remedy or a plan to resolve the issue," Ham said.

Allen also said the council work sessions have led to concerns from city staff, who are sometimes questioned or challenged by council members.

"What I hate is it hurts the morale of the city staff," Allen said. "It's almost like a lack of appreciation."

Allen said he hopes that the council can tackle each of the items Foster has raised, one at a time, vote and move on to other council business.

As of Monday, the council decided to start voting on the meeting agenda at the start of each council work session. The vote can include removing or delaying certain items.

In his years on the Goldsboro City Council, Allen said he's never seen the council have more internal problems than it does today.

"I've been on the council 19 years, and I've never seen things as contentious as they are right now," Allen said. "At the end of the day, we're all here to serve the citizens, and we're going to try and do that. We just have to figure out a better way to communicate.

"I do definitely think we're not as productive as we could be. I think we all have to be civil to each other and civil to the staff."

Foster and Williams declined to return phone messages seeking comment.