By Paul Nielsen The Daily Advance Staff Writer
The three candidates for Elizabeth City mayor discussed four-year terms for councilors, the city’s financial condition, and the city’s denial of a parade permit on the one-year anniversary of Andrew Brown Jr.’s shooting death, during a candidates forum sponsored by the Pasquotank NAACP Tuesday night.
Mayoral candidates Kirk Rivers, Christina Williams and Jeannie Young took several questions from forum moderators as well as questions from some of the 75 people in attendance at the Pasquotank Courthouse.
The city’s municipal election is May 17 and early voting starts April 28.
The candidates were provided with a list of possible questions before the forum that could discussed but only a handful were presented to the candidates.
Three of the questions asked of the candidates included the city’s financial condition, the denial of the NAACP’s request for the Brown parade permit, and possible four-year terms for councilors.
Former interim City Manager Ralph Clark in March denied a request from the NAACP to hold a “Journey to Justice” march on Thursday, April 21. Police Chief Larry James and Fire Chief Chris Carver signed off on the denial of the permit.
Brown was shot and killed by three Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies on April 21, 2021, as they attempted to serve warrants at Brown’s residence. The three deputies were later cleared of criminal wrongdoing by District Attorney Andrew Womble.
Rivers, who earlier in the forum called Brown’s shooting “an execution” and was active in the peaceful protests that followed, said that instability in the city manager’s position since the firing of former City Manager Montre Freeman last fall has created problems.
Like Clark, current interim City Manager Richard Hicks works part-time, which Rivers said he is opposed to. Hicks, who works 24 hours a week, is expected to serve as interim manager until the end of the year.
“We have had problems in the last 10 months, we have gone through four city managers,” Rivers said. “We only have a part-time city manager — that is a problem. Being denied the right for a ‘Journey to Justice’ march in Elizabeth City — that’s a problem. But we are going to bring solutions.”
Williams said she hoped the denial of the march permit, and earlier “lockdowns” following the shooting, were not made to “disenfranchise” anyone in our community. Williams is the founder of the conservative Pasquotank Political Action Committee.
“I think they were probably looking at all the outsiders coming into the community that didn’t have our community at heart or the best of interests here,” Williams said. “I don’t think our city denied anyone anything in our community. I think they were looking at the outsiders coming in and with the safety. I absolutely agree that we need a permanent city manager.”
Young, the only one of the three currently serving in city government —she’s a city councilor representing the First Ward — and said City Council has no role in approving or denying march permits. But she said she would have supported issuing the parade permit if the application “was legal and followed our policies and procedures.” She also the city had little choice in hiring Hicks to serve as interim because full-time applicants did not meet the criteria set by City Council.
“Everybody has the right to protest peacefully if it meets the criteria of my city — yes, I would support the march,” Young said. “We have to make sure we have a qualified (city manager) candidate, we didn’t want to make some of the same mistakes that were made before.”
The candidates were also asked about a recent revelation by Hicks that city is facing a $1.2 million shortfall in water and sewer revenue this fiscal year and what they would do about transparency in the budget.
Young said city needs to update its master plan so citizens know what priorities elected officials have.
“In doing that, we need to prioritize what we do first,” Young said. “There is so much of the infrastructure that has to be fixed. This is not a short-term fix, this is a long-term fix. We have to be cognizant of the taxpayer dollar because this is going to take a lot of money to do. We can get funds from grants.”
Williams said that if elected she would ask for a complete “forensic audit” of the city’s financial books.
“For the last year, no one has been able to tell us where our money has gone,” Williams said. “We have to get a handle on where our money has gone. I want to see every line and what is happening. We need to let the citizens know how we have spent their money and what we have done.”
Rivers said that if elected that on his first day he would lead a push to stop new spending until the city has a better understanding of its financial picture. The city has also not completed its audit of the 2020-21 fiscal year that was due Nov. 1.
“We have to stop spending and make sure we get our financial house in order so that way we know what we are spending,” Rivers said.
Williams and Young both voiced support for four-year terms for City Council while Rivers, who previously served 10 years on council, said that decision should be left up to the voters.
City Council terms were changed from four-year staggered terms to two-year terms after a successful voter referendum in 1998. The city’s mayor has always been elected every two years.
Williams said two-year terms means councilors are back in campaign mode after just one year.
“If you are in campaign mode every other year, you are actually not doing anything for your citizens,” Williams said. “You are thinking about yourself and not the citizens or the city.”
Young said she believes four-year staggered terms for City Council would benefit the city.
“That way you always have some experience left on your City Council,” Young said. “I am very much in favor of four-year staggered terms.”
Rivers was on City Council in 1998 and said the will of the voters spoke on the issue.
“Let the citizens vote for a four-year or two-year (terms),” Rivers said. “If you represent your ward, you will get elected whether it is (for) four years or two years.’’
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