Traditionally, choosing a mayor pro tem has been one of Elizabeth City City Council’s toughest decisions.
With two councilors generally seeking the largely ceremonial post every two years, council’s eight members often find themselves having to choose one over the other.
That’s proven difficult. Votes for mayor pro tem have more often than not resulted in 4-4 deadlocks. And more times than not, those deadlocks have not been broken by the mayor, who can cast tie-breaking votes but for reasons that include not wishing to alienate the losing candidate, traditionally has chosen not to.
Mayor Bettie Parker in fact became only the second city mayor in recent memory to break a 4-4 mayor pro tem deadlock, choosing Councilor Rickey King over fellow Councilor Johnnie Walton two years ago.
King was on the losing end of a similar tie-breaking decision a decade ago. Then-Mayor Roger McLean broke a 4-4 deadlock by handing the mayor pro tem’s job to Councilor Anita Hummer instead of him.
With that past history in mind, two councilors plan to propose to fellow councilors on Monday that the pro tem job be split between two councilors over the next two years.
Councilors Jeannie Young and Darius Horton will ask fellow council members to support a proposal to split the mayor pro tem job, with Horton occupying the position next year and Young assuming the post in 2021. The vote will come after the new council is sworn in.
Young, Horton, Walton, and councilors Kem Spence, Billy Caudle and Gabriel Adkins all won re-election in October, as did Mayor Parker. They, along with newcomer Chris Ruffieux and former councilor Michael Brooks, who also won two-year council terms in October, will be sworn in during a ceremony at Museum of the Albemarle today at 7:30 p.m.
Following the swearing in ceremony, City Council will hold its organizational meeting and vote on a mayor pro tem. The mayor pro tem represents the city when the mayor isn’t available and serves as chairman of the council’s Finance Committee. King, the current mayor pro tem, lost his bid for re-election in October.
According to Young, she and Horton have lobbied other members of the council that will be sworn in tonight and believe they have enough support for the proposal to be approved.
“It was a mutual agreement between us and I think we have the votes,” Young said. “The reception has been great and I think we have the support. But you never really know until the votes come in, but this is what we are hoping to do.”
Horton did not respond to a phone message seeking comment for this story.
Relations among council members over the past year have been contentious at times, reaching a boiling point when council voted this summer, after tempers flared, to have a police officer stationed outside council chambers during closed-door sessions.
Young said relations among council members have improved over the last few months and that sharing the mayor pro tem’s job over the next two years will further improve those relations.
“How this came about is that we want to show unity,” Young said. “With us sharing the duties, we hope to set an example for the other members moving forward. We (council) are not going to agree on everything and when we don’t we need to show respect and act accordingly that way. This is a true, honest commitment from us to come together and to work for unity on the council.”
Young said she has been working at building better working relationships with other council members and that effort will continue in the new term.
“I know I am working hard to better relationships because if we do not have better relationships on the council the only ones that are going to suffer are the citizens of Elizabeth City,” Young said. “For us to be leaders, this is what we have to do. We have to set personal feelings aside. We have to unify with each other and form those relationships to move the city forward.”
If councilors agree to Young and Horton’s plan, it wouldn’t be the first time council has agreed to split the pro tem’s job over two years. In 2011, following a similar 4-4 deadlocked vote, councilors agreed to allow Walton and then-Councilwoman Lena Hill-Lawrence to share the post for one year each.
CAMDEN — The Camden Sheriff’s Office has received county commissioners’ approval to seek a state grant paying a share of the costs for a new deputy’s position in traffic enforcement.
Camden Sheriff Kevin Jones asked commissioners last week to approve his request to seek two traffic deputies through the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program grant.
However, County Manager Ken Bowman said his understanding from previous conversations with Jones was that the sheriff’s application would be for one deputy, not two.
“One would be great; two would be better,” Jones replied.
The state grant would cover a portion of the salary and equipment costs for the new deputy position, including the purchase of a patrol car and service weapon. In the grant’s first year, the grant would cover 85 percent of the position’s salary and related expenses, 70 percent in the second year, and 50 percent in the third year. The county would be required to pick up the full personnel cost for the position in the fourth year.
Jones said the annual cost of equipping a starting deputy is currently $52,837. That includes salary, benefits and equipment costs.
In explaining why the additional deputy position is needed, Jones told commissioners that his office can’t fully rely on the N.C. Highway Patrol anymore to handle all traffic issues in the county.
Jones, who served as a state trooper before being elected sheriff last year, said at a recent town hall in Old Trap that the Highway Patrol is currently four troopers short in the patrol district that covers Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan counties, and because of that Camden deputies are working more traffic-related calls.
On a motion by Commissioner Garry Meiggs, the board voted unanimously to authorize Jones to seek a grant for one traffic deputy. Meiggs’ motion included the provision that the county pay its share of the deputy’s costs during the four-year grant period.
Although Jones requested a commitment from the county to pick up the cost of the deputy after the grant period ends, the board stopped short of doing that.
“We battle that issue at the end of four years,” Meiggs said.
Jones said his concern was that if the county did not continue funding for the position, the deputy would have to be let go after four years.
The grant specifies that the deputy’s primary duty will be traffic enforcement, according to Jones. He noted that the grant program is directed toward traffic safety.
A German family that has been sailing the Atlantic Ocean for more than a year stopped in Elizabeth City last week.
Hagen and Inga Voehrs, joined by their children Beeke, 9, Wencke, 7, and Frithjof, 5, left the Channel Islands in August 2018. From there they sailed south to the Caribbean, before heading back north to Nova Scotia to escape the effects of Hurricane Dorian. The Channel Islands are located off the northern coast of France in the English Channel.
Currently on their way back south, the family cruised the Dismal Swamp Canal in their sailing vessel “Salmon” last week and docked on the Pasquotank River at Mid-Atlantic Christian University.
The family plans to stay in the Carolinas through Christmas, with Beaufort, South Carolina, a possible port call for Christmas Day. They said they didn’t want to be in the Caribbean on Christmas because it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas.
While in Elizabeth City, the family took advantage of the opportunity to participate in an annual downtown tradition.
“We think it’s a very nice thing,” Hagen Voehrs said of Elizabeth City’s Lighted Boat Parade Friday night.
He said they had never been a part of that kind of parade before, even though they had previously decorated their boat with Christmas lights.
Hagen Voehrs said when he turned 40 he decided the time was right to take the family on a transatlantic sailing adventure. He is a dental surgeon and his wife also is a dentist, and they are taking a two-year sabbatical to sail the Atlantic.
“I did something similar with my parents when I was a teenager,” he said, and he wanted his children to have the same kind of adventure.
“It’s going to be the greatest adventure that they will get in life,” he said.
During their travels, the family has met people at every seaside stop they’ve visited. When you take your home with you as you go it affords “a better link to the locals,” he said, of their sailboat.
“You not only share your own journey and experience but you hear so many new ones,” he said.
He said he had read about the Dismal Swamp Canal but it was great to experience it himself.
“That was really, really cool,” he said.
“And we were really lucky to see a black bear,” added Inga Voehrs.
Hagen Voehrs said the trip has provided wonderful educational opportunities for the children, as they have experienced different cultures. He said children in Europe study the American Civil War, but his children have seen Civil War battlefields in person — including the Dismal Swamp Canal locks at South Mills, which featured prominently in the Battle of South Mills.
The boat constitutes an “outdoor classroom,” he said. “This is kind of hands-on education.”
The family had planned to depart Elizabeth City on Sunday, after spending about a week in the River City. Hagen Voehrs said the children especially enjoyed Elizabeth City because they had a chance to play with children their own age.
“They love it,” added Inga Voehrs.
The “Mean One” turned out not be all that mean at Museum of the Albemarle’s Christmas season open house on Saturday.
The Grinch, of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” fame, in fact was a popular figure during the museum’s Who-seum-ville Christmas celebration.
From the time the doors opened at 10 a.m. until they closed at 4 p.m. hundreds of children, and even some adults, had their picture snapped with The Grinch during one of the museum’s most popular annual events.
Museum Education Curator Charlotte Patterson said Saturday morning the museum was expecting upward of 4,000 people to take part in Christmas activities inside and outside the museum.
“Everybody here at the museum will do something on this project,” Patterson said. “I think the most people we have had for this event is 4,500. It doesn’t look like that many because we are so big and we also have activities outside on the lawn. It’s an all-inclusive event and there are lots of photo opportunities.’’
In addition to meeting The Grinch, visitors had their photo taken with Cindy Lou-Who and other characters from Dr. Seuss tale in the museum’s Who-ville Village. Visitors also made Grinch crafts and ornaments while munching on Grinch-inspired refreshments.
There were also several other interactive activities, including the Albemarle Express O train that traveled around the 13 counties in the Albemarle region and a kids-sized train, carriage and pony rides on the museum green. Visitors were also able to write “Grinch-grams” that will be sent to sick children in area hospitals as well as to residents in nursing homes across the Albemarle region.
And yes, Santa Claus was there, taking a break from his Christmas preparations to greet visitors for an hour.
City residents T.J. and Courtney Smith along with their two children, Elias and Sofie, were some of the first people through the doors at the museum Saturday morning. Elias, 1, and Sofie, 3, both spent time, and having their picture taken, with The Grinch before going off to participate in the many activities throughout the museum.
“The Grinch is a great actor and he (Elias) really liked it,” T.J. Smith said. “This is my first visit here as we just moved here but my wife grew up here.”
Courtney Smith said the visit to the museum was the first stop on a day filled with Christmas-related activities.
“Our kids were really excited to come here and they really are enjoying it,” she said. “We are going to go to the Christmas parade (Saturday night) and we are very thankful that there are a lot of things to do here in our community.”
Those who missed Saturday’s open house need not worry: the event will again be held next Christmas, as the museum typically keeps the same theme for several consecutive years. Planning for this year’s event began this past summer and included help from more than adult 25 volunteers and the museum’s teenage volunteers.
“We change our theme about every three years,” Patterson said. “We did the ‘Polar Express’ for several years, and this was a big theme change for us. We can’t run this event without our volunteers.”
U.S. Congressman Mark Walker, R-NC, will give the keynote address at Elizabeth City State University’s fall graduation ceremony next week.
Walker, who represents North Carolina’s sixth district, will speak at ECSU’s 169th commencement set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Mickey L. Burnim Fine Arts Center.
Walker has served North Carolina in Washington D.C. since 2015. He is currently the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference and is a member of the Bipartisan Congressional Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus. He’s also chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
Walker is a resident of Winston-Salem and is the former pastor for Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. He is married to nurse practitioner and flight trauma specialist, Kelly Sears. The couple have three children.
Tickets are required to attend the ECSU commencement, but the ceremony will be broadcast live on WRVS FM 89.9, and live streamed online.