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A Missed Opportunity

A lot has been said about civility – specifically, the lack of it – during the circuses (also known as meetings) of Greenville’s city council over the past two years. Readers so inclined can find in our archives the Guardian’s coverage of those sessions. Here, I’ll let it suffice to say I think all of Greenville is hoping we’ve seen the last of elected grownups acting like schoolyard bullies.

A new city council was seated Monday night, with a new majority – one widely viewed as being led by at-large councilor Calvin Mercer, who won the city-wide seat after three terms as District 4 rep. Mercer, along with Marion Blackburn (D3) and newcomers Rick Smiley (D4) and Richard Croskery (D5) can thank their predecessors’ above-referenced behavior for at minimum contributing to and quite possibly making the difference in one of the most hotly contested city council elections in recent memory.

The first order of business for every new council, indeed the only one transacted on the night it is installed, is choosing a mayor pro-tem, the councilor who holds the gavel in the event of the mayor’s absence, or recusal on a particular issue. The pro-tem also makes $9,600 a year, still a pittance for any councilor, but $900 more than the rest.

By a 4-2 margin – the same one we saw again and again during these last two years of hubris on steroids – the new majority Monday night voted Mercer pro-tem, putting the body’s top two positions in the hands of white males. While not unexpected and not even approaching uncivil, Mercer’s election was nonetheless a missed opportunity.

IMHO long

City council is an ostensibly non-partisan body.

Yeah. Right.

Party affiliation might not be disclosed, but it’s clear to anyone who’s been paying attention that there is a struggle in Greenville between two factions: Those who want unbridled commercial development to continue – despite empty stores in old and new buildings all over town – and those who favor a more nuanced approach which might, for example, reward businesses for locating in existing infrastructure, and be more focused on growing the city “up” than “out.”

The pro-tem position on city council, however, has no influence on this, Mercer’s centerpiece issue – or on any other. The pro-tem can neither limit nor extend the power of council.

Mercer’s foursome, however, could have extended an olive branch to the remaining members of the old majority – and more importantly, sent a wonderful message to Greenville’s African American and female populations – by selecting seven-term councilor Rose Glover (D2) or three-termer Kandie Smith (D1) as pro-tem.

Let me be clear: Beyond putting into practice the old adage, “To the victor belong the spoils,” I read no partisan or punitive message whatsoever into the majority’s failure to appoint either of these committed public servants pro-tem. Mercer ran a hard campaign that was fundamental to the seating of a new team. That being said, helping people understand and buy into the benefits of growing Greenville smarter (or any other proposal) will require forethought, patience, and most of all, an unflagging determination to take every opportunity to gain the support of constituencies throughout the city.

The new council begins transacting our business Thursday night. Here’s hoping those traits become the touchstones which guide all its work.

Old Business: Campaign Signs

Readers will recall our reporting on what appeared to be illegally placed signs for two candidates during the election campaign. One, Michael Overton, who sought the D5 seat, took quick action to bring his into compliance. The other, Mayor Thomas, did not.

I wondered why the state law, which specifies violations as Class 1 misdemeanors, wasn’t enforced. After the Pitt County Sheriff’s office referred me to the Greenville Police Department – and after it became clear the GPD wrongly assumed the city zoning office had responsibility – I pressed the issue and received the below response from Chief Hassan Aden.

Other questions remain. State Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office was particularly – and quite purposefully, I think – useless on this issue. And I plan to get the take of State Police, who are also empowered to cite for such offenses, according to the Pitt County DA. But for now, I’ll leave you with Chief Aden’s reply and let readers undertake any comment/discussion – except to say I can hardly wait for 2015:

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Anthony Noel is a co-founder of the Guardian. His column appears about once a month, or when something really pisses him off – whichever comes first.

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Responses (2)

  1. Vince Bellis says:

    Like Tony, I was disappointed that the ‘new’ council started off with a polarizing vote.

  2. Artemis Kares says:

    I think the choice of Mercer was the correct one. The Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem form the leadership team. The Mayor represents the old majority and Mercer represents another view, my view. As a white female, I do not think either Glover or Smith represent my perspective very well. Gender is not a factor.

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