04/28/06 — Allen says city didn't use race issue to decide to annex

View Archive

Allen says city didn't use race issue to decide to annex

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 28, 2006 1:55 PM

As residents question the motives of the city's annexation request for the neighborhoods near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads, Goldsboro City Council member Chuck Allen said officials are simply acting in the best interest of the city.

Recently, some residents have argued that racial issues played a key role in the request that the proposed annexation represents a forced desegregation of Goldsboro -- an attempt to manipulate the demographics of the city.

The neighbors have been fighting the proposed annexation for two years. The City Council approved the first ordinance in 2004 to involuntarily annex the neighborhoods.

North Carolina law permits municipalities to annex land even if residents don't want to be included in the city, if certain criteria are met. The city says it has met those requirements, and the opponents disagree.

Good Neighbors United formed in opposition to the city's decision to annex and sued. The judge agreed that the ordinance needed to be rewritten and another public hearing be scheduled.

The city complied and approved a second annexation plan last July. The residents filed another petition challenging the new ordinance. In December, the city filed a motion to dismiss Good Neighbors United's lawsuit, which was denied by Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand, leading to last month's trial.

At the conclusion of the latest hearing, some neighbors began challenging the city's reasons for annexation -- some pointing to race as a key factor in the action.

In a flier currently circulating throughout Wayne County, Bill Burnette addressed his contention that race played a major role in the proposed annexation. Burnette, representing Good Neighbors United, a group formed in opposition of the annexation, made specific references to a letter written by City Council member Chuck Allen in 2001.

An excerpt from the flier reads, "The most shocking content of Allen's letter, the part that should be important to you, was what he said about how the current annexation area would keep the racial make up of Goldsboro in check. He stated his concerns about the 'white-flight' from the city schools and "the lack of growth of young white families in the city."

Allen said he wrote the letter to Rep. Carolyn Russell to which Burnette refers in July 2001 to voice his discontent with her support of an effort by the neighborhoods near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads to form their own municipality.

But as for allegations that the annexation request represented a "forced desegregation" of Goldsboro, Allen answered with a firm "no."

"When we talked about annexation, race never came up," he said.

But in the 2001 letter, Allen said the city wasn't growing, and that the census data suggested that Goldsboro was losing young white families.

"A city that doesn't grow dies and because of the white flight in the schools, floods and various other reasons, Goldsboro (the city) is not growing, especially our young white families and according to the census, we might even be losing people," an excerpt of the letter reads.

In annexation hearings held last month in response to a question from Good Neighbors United attorney Jim Eldridge, Allen testified that racial diversity is an important consideration in any community.

"Well, I mean, as a City Council person, I'm very concerned about diversity," he testified. "I think you should have racial diversity. You shouldn't be all white, all black, especially in our economy and, you know, where we live today in this area."

Eldridge asked no further questions about whether race played a factor in the proposed annexation.

In an interview after the most recent annexation hearings, Allen contended the letter referenced lack of growth for a series of reasons and that discussions regarding the annexation were still about issues other than race.

"Our conversations were all focused on budget and services," he said.

The proposed annexation would add tax dollars to the city budget, he added, but the key motivations of the council involved both providing necessary services to the area and setting future growth of Goldsboro in motion.

"The new NC-117/US-70 interchange is a high-growth area," Allen said. "That's where all future growth is going to be. And they do have some sewer issues out there."

But many residents from the targeted neighborhoods said they don't need sewer services. Allen said he has seen and smelled the problems himself, and that fear of angry neighbors might have influenced some residents to deny services.

"If I lived out there, I probably wouldn't petition for sewer either," he said. "You're liable to make your neighbors angry. But that doesn't mean there isn't a problem."

Annexing the neighborhood would not only provide city services that would eliminate this problem, he added, but would give residents a say-so in Goldsboro government as well.

"I think this annexation would be good for those folks economically and politically," Allen said. "It gives them a voice in the future of Goldsboro and allows them to use city services. And there aren't a whole lot of services out there now."

Some residents also question why their neighborhoods are being targeted, when the New Hope area has similar problems. Allen said the city will likely work to annex that area as well, but that there isn't room for future growth there like there is near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads.

"New Hope would be a one-time thing, but most of the area has too much vacant land to qualify for annexation," Allen said. "There's just no room for growth."

Expanding Goldsboro is always considered when annexation issues are discussed, Allen added. Without growth, the city would fail to attract businesses and industry that will help it prosper.

"Our job as councilmen is to look at what annexation can do for the city," he said. "When people look to locate here, businesses and industry, they all look at the demographics. They're not going to come here unless we have around 50,000 people."

And Allen said a larger city with more business is in many ways what is in the best interest for Goldsboro's future.

"I am always trying to support what is in the best interest of Goldsboro," he said. "This (annexation) is simply one more thing that is important to our city."

As for accusations that the city is acting under false pretenses, masking a forced desegregation of the city with promise of better services for neighbors, Allen said they could not be more wrong.

"I strongly believe that if the neighborhood out there had been 100 percent black, I would still be in support of this thing," he said.

Both the neighbors and city have submitted their briefs for review. Judge Ripley Rand is expected to have his decision within the next few months.