12/19/17 — Councilman storms out

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Councilman storms out

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on December 19, 2017 5:50 AM

Councilman Bevan Foster walked out of a council meeting Monday after disagreeing with members of the council on the mayor's voting power, legal representation and a new commercial stormwater fee.

The council learned that it can change the city charter to lessen the voting power of the mayor through a series of steps, including holding a public hearing. Foster recently asked that the mayor's voting ability be limited to only voting when the council is locked in a tie vote.

Councilman Bill Broadaway said he learned that the city changed its charter in the 1980s during a time when former Mayor Hal Plonk wanted to vote, in an effort to show his stance on city issues.

Councilman David Ham said he supports the mayor's current role of voting on all issues.

"My feelings are the public voted for the mayor ... they voted with the expectation that the mayor would act on behalf of them and the best reasonable way that he could," Ham said.

Councilman Antonio Williams disagreed and said the public would know the mayor's views when he votes to break a tie.

"Our mayor is still going to be our mayor," Williams said. "He's not going to lose that right to vote."

Councilman Mark Stevens asked why the council needed to change the role of the mayor.

"Sometimes, we need to make changes to come to current standards," Foster said. "I think we're so afraid of change half the time. It doesn't make sense."

The council voted 5-2 to not make any changes to the mayor's role, which allows him to vote on all city matters.

The strongest disagreement from Foster came during a discussion about charging non-residential property owners a new stormwater fee.

Foster opposed a recommended declining fee structure for commercial properties, saying non-residential property owners should have to pay at a level comparable to residential property owners.

Residential stormwater fees for property owners started in July at a cost of $4.50 per month.

Non-residential property owners, including Wayne Community College and Berkeley Mall, have a greater area of impervious surface, which generates more stormwater. The larger properties are charged a higher monthly fee, which will result in a monthly fee of $671 for the college.

The declining fee structure involves charging a base fee, with a reducing cost based on the total amount of impervious surface.

"Why should a business get a break when our residents don't?" Foster said.

City Manager Scott Stevens told the council that residential water and electric customers pay a higher base cost for utilities but larger businesses pay a lower rate because of using more utilities. The stormwater fee structure is based on the same concept.

"We're trying to be fair and equitable across the board," said Rick Fletcher, Goldsboro public works director.

Foster said businesses are making money and should be able to foot the bill.

"I don't see where this is unfair to anyone," Councilman Gene Aycock said.

Broadaway said he is concerned about having the fees set at a higher rate. Foster recommended, in early December, that non-residential property owners be charged a higher rate than the declining fees recommended by the city's public works director.

"We've got to be competitive in trying to recruit businesses in," Broadaway said.

Foster said the city is competitive, since other cities already have stormwater fees in place.

Mayor Chuck Allen shared concern about how the fees will affect businesses in Goldsboro.

"All these businesses hire thousands of people in the city," Allen said.

After a lengthy, back-and-forth discussion with Fletcher, Foster asked that the council delay its decision until more information is provided. The council has discussed the new stormwater fees for more than a year.

The motion failed in a 2-5 vote, with Williams and Foster voting for the delay.

Foster also suggested that the commercial fees be retroactive, since residential property owners have been paying stormwater fees since July. No vote was taken on the proposal.

Ham made a motion to approve Fletcher's original declining stormwater fee structure, which passed in a 5-2 vote, with Foster and Williams voting in opposition.

After the vote, Foster walked out of the meeting and did not return for the council's regular 7 p.m. meeting.

During the work session, the council also voted 5-2 in favor of a 12-month contract with attorney Ronald Lawrence. Foster and Williams voted in opposition.

Lawrence will work as the city attorney, for $150 per hour. The city's attorney for the past 10 years, James Womble, with the Everett, Womble and Lawrence law firm, will step down from his role on Dec. 31.