While there doesn’t appear to be a consensus for moving the Confederate monument from the Pasquotank Courthouse square, there also doesn’t appear to be one for keeping it there.
Of the seven members of the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners interviewed in recent weeks, only one — Chairman Jeff Dixon — strongly expressed the view the monument should stay where it’s been for the past 109 years.
Two other commissioners — Cecil Perry and Charles Jordan — said they either support or, in the case of Jordan, are “leaning toward” having the monument moved from the courthouse property.
Three others — Lloyd Griffin, Sean Lavin and Barry Overman — said they want to hear what constituents have to say about the monument’s location before making a final decision. They also want to hear what county officials have to say about whether the monument should and can be moved.
Overman went further, however, saying he’d be open to moving the monument if he’s convinced it can help address racial division and start a broader conversation about bettering the community.
One other commissioner, Frankie Meads, said he, too, could be open to moving the monument — but only if the NAACP or some other organization stepped forward and agreed to pay the cost of moving it. Meads also wants the monument relocated to some other place of prominence in the city — the waterfront, for example.
The board’s current stance on the 31-foot monument appears different — at least publicly — from just three years ago, when a motion offered by Perry to move it failed by a 4-3 vote.
In that vote, Griffin and Meads joined Dixon and then-Commissioner Joe Winslow in voting against the monument’s relocation. Jordan, Lavin and Overman joined the board after the 2017 vote.
The apparent shift in the board’s thinking about the monument has at least one of its opponents optimistic there may be at least four votes now for moving it.
“Yes, I’m optimistic,” Perry said when interviewed recently. “I think there are four people that will see what this represents and who have enough respect for African-American citizens to know that it (the monument) doesn’t represent the people of Pasquotank County any longer. That it needs to be moved.”
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the monument’s future on Monday at 6 p.m. Unlike recent meetings closed to in-person public participation because of COVID-19 restrictions, the public will be able to attend Monday’s meeting in Courtroom A of the courthouse. Attendees will be required to wear a face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
County officials are expected to discuss whether the monument, erected by the now-defunct D.H. Hill Chapter of the United Daughters of Confederacy in 1911, poses a “threat to public safety” in its current location.
Under a 2015 state law, “objects of remembrance” like Confederate statues cannot be removed from public property without state approval. The bill does include several exceptions, however, including one allowing local officials to order removal without state approval if the object of remembrance “poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition.”
The recent slayings of George Floyd and other African Americans while in police custody have sparked nationwide protests, some of which have targeted Confederate monuments as symbols of white supremacy. Because the protests have involved efforts to forcibly pull down the monuments, public officials increasingly have expressed concern that they pose a risk to public safety.
A number of cities and counties in North Carolina have already removed Confederate monuments and statues from courthouses and other areas of prominence, citing the law’s public safety exemption.
While there have been no similar protests of the Confederate monument in Elizabeth City, there have been several peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of Floyd’s death. One, held in conjunction with the Juneteenth celebration last month, prompted county officials to erect a temporary safety fence around the monument.
Officials said they did so after learning a counter protest to the Black Lives Matter demonstration was being planned. The counter protest never materialized and the Juneteenth event, which included a march past the monument, went off smoothly. The temporary fence was later removed.
Griffin said it’s his understanding Monday’s discussion about the monument will include presentations by county officials on the public safety exemption.
Although he’s voted against moving the monument in the past, Griffin declined to say if that’s still his position.
“We’re going to talk about it on July 13,” he said. “I want to have a conversation about it. I want to hear the pros and cons, what the concerns are” about keeping the monument where it is. “It’s become a public safety issue.”
Dixon, the lone commissioner to say he favors keeping the monument at the courthouse, said he’s heard from constituents concerned that the monument could be destroyed by vandals.
“I don’t see it that way myself but I know people who do,” he said. “They’re concerned about it either being toppled or destroyed. They’d rather have it taken down in one piece professionally instead of seeing it pulled down.”
Lavin said he doesn’t believe local residents will destroy the monument. As for whether it should remain at the courthouse, he doesn’t “have a strong opinion” about it right now, he said. He wants to hear what local residents have to say before deciding.
Noting he’s not originally from the area, Lavin said he had never visited the monument and “didn’t even know it was there” until it became the subject of controversy.
“I have done some research since it came up and understand it may be a symbol of something we don’t want,” he said. “But I want to hear that from folks that live and work here.”
Lavin said his own preference is to have more representations of local history that provide context and “tell the other side” of controversial subjects like the Civil War. He’d like to see more representation, for example, of the area’s participation in the Underground Railroad which helped enslaved people escape the South both before and during the Civil War.
“I think there is value in keeping the statue up and having other things built to tell the entire story,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to learn about the Underground Railroad through the Ghost Walk doing something on it every four years or so.”
Jordan, one of two African Americans on the commission board, said he’s “still getting some facts” about the monument but is “leaning toward” removing it from the courthouse.
The more he learns about the monument’s history, he said, the more he agrees with others who say it’s a lingering symbol of white supremacy and racism.
“It’s not meaningful to me as a person of color,” Jordan said, referring to the monument. “I’m not seeing a reason why we need to leave it there.”
Even so, he believes commissioners need to have a full discussion about the monument before any decision is made.
“That’s why my decision isn’t final,” he said.
Overman, who also hasn’t voted on the monument before, calls it “a tough issue.” On the one hand, he loves history and enjoys stories about the past. On the other hand, he knows some representations of history — statues of Confederate soldiers, for example — may be seen differently by others, particularly African Americans.
Overman said he doesn’t know if Confederate statues were erected, as their critics contend, as “symbols of hate.” He also “doesn’t take lightly” the idea that those who put them up may in fact have “felt they were doing right.”
Overman also disagrees with the rhetoric of some of those protesting monuments, noting “they’re encouraging people to do things that are dangerous.” He said he opposes decisions made by “mob law” and worries about the potential long-term ramifications of removing monuments too hastily.
But if a Confederate statue is creating racial division in Elizabeth City, Overman says he has “no reservations whatsoever” doing what’s necessary to help heal it.
“If it comes down to a cement statue or a person, I’m going to come down in favor of the person,” he said.
Overman doesn’t believe removing a statue will itself “change a whole lot” when it comes to finding solutions to racism or hatred. “In order for change to happen, we’ve got to be able to talk with each other,” he said.
But removing the statue could be a “starting point” for those discussions, Overman believes.
“If removing the statue will get that started, then let’s do it,” he said. “We have to make a decision that’s for the betterment of the community.”
Although Meads is open to moving the Confederate monument if someone other than the county foots the bill, he believes it still has great historic value.
“We have history so that we don’t make the same mistakes we made in the past,” he said.
Meads thinks it’s ludicrous to suggest the monument poses a public safety risk because it might attract people who want to tear it down.
“If you have people who don’t have any more sense than to do something like that, there’s not much you can do,” he said. “You can’t protect against stupidity.”
Cash customers are getting the nickel-and-dime treatment at Eagle Mart convenience stores in Elizabeth City.
With a nationwide coin shortage underway because of the coronavirus pandemic, Eagle Market owner H.J. Patel says it’s currently hard for him to get quarters for his four convenience stores in the region.
That means cash-paying customers are getting a lot of nickels and dimes in their change. That in turn is putting a strain on the supply of nickels and dimes.
Patel said he first started experiencing a shortage of coins a month ago.
“No bank has quarters at all,” Patel said. “You have to work it out with dimes, nickels and pennies. That’s a lot of usage when you don’t have a quarter.”
According to a press release from the U.S. Federal Reserve, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a nationwide coin shortage.
When stay-at-home orders caused businesses, including some bank branches, to close or operate on a limited basis, it slowed or even stopped the flow of coins through the economy, the Federal Reserve said.
Also, the U.S. Mint’s coin production decreased due to COVID-19 measures that were put in place to protect mint employees.
Patel, who said 99 percent of his customers pay with a debit card or credit card, gets around $240 in change a week for each of his stores, placing the almost $1,000 request once a week with his bank.
So far, $40 a day in change for each of his locations has met Eagle Mart’s needs but Patel said he has had to move coins from one store to another because of a run on coins.
“You can’t place an order every day,” Patel said of getting coins from the bank.
Coinstar owns and operates 22,000 self-service coin counting kiosks across the country, including five in Elizabeth City. Coinstar Chief Executive Officer Jim Gaherity said the company is making a concerted effort to quickly get coins back into circulation.
Coins from the kiosks are sent to a processing facility and then sent to banks where the coins are put back into circulation. Last year, Coinstar processed 37 million coins worth $2.7 billion.
Coinstar saw foot traffic at its machines slow nationwide during the COVID-19-related shutdowns but things have rebounded as the economy has reopened, Gaherity said.
“As lockdowns end, coin transactions and volumes through Coinstar kiosks are growing,” Gaherity said. “Accordingly, we’ve been making more frequent coin pickups to help get coins back in circulation.”
CAMDEN — A Camden County deputy used a Taser weapon to get an assault suspect under control after the man allegedly assaulted the officer.
Deputy Luke Marcum deployed the weapon against Jamie Eugene Sanders, 33, of N.C. Highway 343 North, Camden during the June 24 incident, Camden Sheriff Kevin Jones confirmed Friday.
According to Jones, Camden deputies were dispatched to Sanders’ house at the request of Taylor Jordan Cabral, 22, who was trying to retrieve some of her property from the house. Marcum’s report indicates Cabral’s call came in shortly before 1 a.m.
Apparently there was a “property dispute” between Sanders and Cabral, during which Sanders assaulted Marcum, Jones said.
Marcum deployed his Taser in response to Sanders’ assault, Jones said.
“They got him handcuffed without further resistance,” Jones said. “Everything was fine after that.”
Jones said Marcum has completed a use of force report in the incident. While the sheriff’s office is still investigating the incident, and a final determination has not been made, the initial indication is that Marcum’s use of force was justified, the sheriff said.
Sanders was charged with assault on a government official and released on $5,000 unsecured bond, according to a report filed by Marcum.
Jones said the incident was an example of how quickly a seemingly routine matter can become a potentially dangerous situation.
“You never know what frame of mind someone is in or just what to expect,” Jones said.
Sanders is scheduled to appear in Camden District Court on Aug. 21.
The Pasquotank Board of Elections will discuss Monday expanding one-stop early voting in the county for the Nov. 3 general election.
North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell recently sent out a memo to county election boards across the state urging them to consider conducting early voting all 17 days permitted by law.
One-stop voting for the Nov. 3 election will begin on Thursday, Oct. 15 and end on Saturday, Oct. 31. But individual counties set which dates early voting will occur.
Bell also stated in her memo that counties could add additional early voting sites as long they complied with statutory requirements.
The Pasquotank Board of Elections had preliminary one-stop voting discussions last week and the board will most likely come up with a final plan Monday. Local boards must submit their one-stop voting plans to the State Board of Elections by July 31.
Pasquotank Board of Elections Director Emma Tate expects that the five-person elections board will expand weekday one-stop voting hours by 2½ hours this October. For the primary last March, weekday one-stop voting hours were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but that will probably change to 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. this fall.
“The general consensus is that we will definitely do extended (weekday) hours,” said Tate, who does not have a vote in the matter.
The board on Monday will also discuss possibly shifting one of the three Saturdays during the 15-day period to one of the two Sundays, either Oct. 18 or Oct 25. Saturday voting will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Some (election board) members want to add a Sunday or move a Saturday to a Sunday,” Tate said. “Some don’t want to do that.’’
Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers sent a letter to the county Board of Elections prior to its meeting last week urging the county to add two additional early voting sites and expand weekday voting hours to 7:30 p.m.
Rivers also urged the board to allow early voting on Saturday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 31, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as well as Sunday, Oct. 25, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
After last week’s election board meeting, Rivers said the board is moving in the “right direction.” However, the NAACP would like to see additional early voting sites in the Newland and Weeksville areas of the county.
“We have petitioned for one on the northern end of the county and one on the southern end of the county,” Rivers said. “We also have asked for extended voting hours on all weekdays. The increase of voting hours will make one-stop voting more accessible to working persons.”
Tate, however, doesn’t think the board will add additional sites. One-stop voting is currently held in the Red Cross auditorium adjacent to the Board of Elections office at the Edgewood Center. Tate said there is plenty of room to practice safe social distancing requirements in the auditorium.
“It (additional sites) was discussed but it didn’t sound like they (board members) were entertaining that idea because of the constraints with COVID,” Tate said.
With social distancing now the norm, Rivers feels the elections office site is not big enough to safely handle the high volume of one-stop voters expected to vote in the presidential election.
“You don’t want lines,” Rivers said. “You want people to be extended out. If you don’t have expanded voting sites you are going to need the polls to open for extended hours to avoid those lines.”
Rivers believes social distancing “will be an issue” with only one early voting site.
“I don’t see any reason that they won’t approve a plan to maximize the hours on Saturday and Sunday and also expand the voting,’’ he said.
Tate has contacted past poll workers and sent out a mailer to county residents seeking poll workers for the November election.
“We are getting a response from that (mailer), and that is reassuring,” Tate said. “We also have some efforts at ECSU to get some student poll workers as well.”
In the past, county poll workers received between $125 and $175 for working the polls on election day.
But Tate said that compensation could increase this fall as the county received an additional $90,000 in COVID-19 relief funds to help with additional election costs because of the pandemic.
“The board has not decided on that yet, but we can use that money for incentive pay,” Tate said.
Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies may soon be equipped with body cameras.
County commissioners plan to discuss Monday whether to spend around $33,000 to outfit Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.
The county plans to apply for a U.S. Bureau of Justice grant that would pay for half the cost of the body cameras. The county would then pay the other half from capital reserve funds.
But County Manager Sparty Hammett is proposing that the entire body camera project be funded with reserve funds if the county’s grant application is rejected.
If approved by the board, the county would purchase 33 body cameras and associated accessories at a cost of $33,287.
Hammett and Sheriff Tommy Wooten have been discussing equipping deputies with body cameras for several months. Hammett told commissioners last month the county had the money for the project.
Hammett and Wooten will brief the county’s Finance Committee Monday afternoon about the proposal and the full board could vote on the matter at its regular meeting Monday night.
“Body camera footage is so important if you have some sort of situation where there is a complaint, or something happens,” Hammett said Friday. “Many studies have shown that body cameras reduce the number of complaints against law enforcement.”
Hammett noted that if the sheriff’s office had a deputy not doing their job appropriately, body cameras would help identify the person.
“It’s extremely important for both sides,” he said.
Hammett said the cost of body cameras is less than it was several years ago.
“The cost has gone down significantly since the last time I looked at body cameras,” Hammett said. “When they (sheriff’s department) recently got a quote and told me the cost of it, I said, ‘Wow.’ That’s a lot less than I anticipated. So, we decided to put it on the next (commissioners) agenda and move it forward.”
Hammett said that Wooten and sheriff’s staff will also update the Finance Committee on the office’s current use of force policy.
The Finance Committee will meet at 4 p.m. Monday in Courtroom C in the Pasquotank County Courthouse. The Board of Commissioners regular meeting Monday will be in Courtroom A at 6 p.m.