10/26/09 — It's not just the gavel ...

View Archive

It's not just the gavel ...

By Laura Collins
Published in News on October 26, 2009 1:46 PM

Full Size


Reporter Laura Collins, right, bangs the gavel, as Mayor Al King supervises, to close out the regular meeting of the Goldsboro City Council last Monday night.

The Job: Mayor of Goldsboro

The Company: City of Goldsboro

The Location: City Hall

I am officially only responding to "Mayor Collins" from here on out.

Going into this gig of being mayor for the day alongside Mayor Al King, I thought most of my responsibility as mayor would consist of shaking hands, smiling and being seen. While those greetings are part of any mayor's job, King spends a good part of his day being something I never really expected -- the city's biggest cheerleader.

We started out at Starbucks where King meets with three other guys almost every day. They have been meeting for years and came together over a common love for coffee and cars. The men sound like characters in a joke: A racecar driver from the 1960s, a former tabloid photographer, a pizza shop owner and the mayor walk into a coffee shop...

I got the feeling there is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, political second guessing, and problem-solving that goes on at that table.

Through the course of coffee, I jotted down some interesting quotes I'd overheard.

"To be among us, you don't really have to be crazy, but it helps."

"NASCAR is the prowrestling of car racing."

"Do you name your cars? That's why they don't like you. They don't have names."

"I have neckties older than you." Thanks, Mr. Mayor.

Although the meeting at Starbucks was informal, King didn't miss an opportunity to talk about the city he loves.

"What are you doing in Pikeville? Move to Goldsboro," he said to a woman he had just met, then he went on to point out the perks of living in Goldsboro.

Around 10 a.m., the coffee meeting ends and King and I head to City Hall. Inside the doors at City Hall behind a large main desk is "gatekeeper" Linda Braswell.

"Hello Mayor King and Mayor Collins," she said. I liked her already.

She smiled so broadly when she saw us that I briefly wondered if someone told a joke I didn't hear. But King said that's just her, she is often the first face people see when they come to City Hall and she has a remarkable ability to put everyone, or at least most people, in a good mood.

"She is absolutely awesome," he said. "You will not meet a nicer person than Linda Braswell."

Upstairs outside his office his "M&M girls," as he calls them, are already working but stop to greet him when he comes.

"They keep me in order," he said of City Clerk Melissa Brewer and Deputy City Clerk Michelle Daw.

As part of a fitness challenge, the mayor and other members of his staff have been competing against the county, counting their steps using pedometers. Just to make sure his steps are accurate, the mayor has two pedometers attached to his belt. When it's time to report his steps to Ms. Brewer he has a childlike giddiness, proud of his accomplishments in helping the team and eager to share the news.

The average number of steps per day is 10,000; however, King walked more than 31,000 steps the previous day. He said he set his goal at 30,000, but went past it for good measure.

From there the mayor took me on about a two-hour tour of City Hall. City Hall is not that big, but King not only knows and introduced me to every single person in the building, but he also had a story about nearly everyone as well. He speaks so highly of the employees -- to them and to me -- it's easy to see why they enjoy coming to work.

"If it weren't for the staff here, I'd be golfing and taking care of my cars," he said. "These people are so special. We have the best staff the city has ever had."

I capped off my day as mayor attending the City Council work session and then the regular meeting of the mayor and City Council. Initially I didn't think the work session was that bad. They gave me a sandwich and some candy, so I was pretty happy. However, nearly two hours later, the "happy" feeling was definitely a distant memory.

"You know we don't allow sleeping in here -- with your eyes closed or with your eyes open," King said. "And trust me, I can tell when you're sleeping with your eyes open."

In my defense, at no time during this job did I fall asleep. However, there might have been a time when I wished I was sleeping.

The mayor let me open and close the council meeting with the gavel and then spent some time after the meeting again introducing me to people and telling me stories about them.

For someone who seemed to fall into being the mayor, he definitely has a knack for it. King's one of the only people I've ever met who has an uncanny ability to be both extremely nice and complimentary, but also extremely honest. Unlike many politicians, he has no problem stating his opinion on a topic, however unpopular it might be, and he doesn't seem to hold anything back when a reporter is present.

King was originally appointed to mayor after Mayor Hal Plonk died in office in 2001.

"I never wanted to be mayor. It just happened," he said, but then he ran for re-election. "Our staff was really ready to go out and make a difference. The progress that we made and the possibilities that were out there, we had a team of really smart, committed people what wanted to keep things going."

King said he hasn't yet decided if he plans to run again. He wants to wait and see who else is running and if he feels comfortable turning over his city and staff to a new leader. He added that one factor will not have an effect on his decision.

"Naysayers. They will never determine whether I run again," he said. "I decide what I do."