05/29/11 — Mayor recalls start of proposal to annex

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Mayor recalls start of proposal to annex

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 29, 2011 1:50 AM

How did the Goldsboro City Council -- and city government -- come up with the idea to annex the Buck Swamp and Falling Brook areas?

The city's mayor said the suggestion was first made during a trip back from a conference in the late 1990s.

In the years leading up to his retirement as a city employee, Mayor Al King, who was then Goldsboro's director of personnel, often served as an adviser and confidant for the City Council and late Mayor Hal Plonk.

He said his opinion was often sought on various issues concerning the city, and he was frequently asked to tag along when the council visited cities across the country for conferences and workshops.

King said his travels with the council took him as far away as San Antonio, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

"They leaned on me," he says almost a decade later. "And they trusted me, I guess."

On the way back from a conference in Washington, D.C., one year in the late 1990s,  a councilman asked if they could take a detour.

"He said, 'Hey, on the way back there's a neighborhood I want you to drive through," King recalled.

The councilman then directed the driver toward the Buck Swamp and Falling Brook areas, which are now known as Phase 11 of the city's annexation plan.

"We need to annex them," King remembered the councilman saying, although he would not name him.

Delmus Bridgers, who was on the council at the time, said he might have been with King on that trip. He said he remembers the suggestion and attributes the first steps toward the controversial annexation to the late J.B. Rhodes Sr. Rhodes was the District 1 representative at the time, the same district that the Buck Swamp area residents would reluctantly join years later.

King, then a few years from retirement, said he

felt lucky that the city's annexation of that area would come after his days as an employee were over because he knew there would be widespread protests from the residents.

"I said, 'I sure hope I'm out of here before that happens,'" he said. "(The annexation) was in the mill a long time ago and I said, 'Oh my God.' I knew they were going to get a pushback."

But following a two-year retirement and Plonk's death, King was back in public service in January 2002, returning this time as mayor.

"And guess what I had on my desk," he said.

Six months later, the council approved the voluntary annexation on the east side of Salem Church Road from Fedelon Trail to Stoney Hill Road immediately following a public hearing, effectively putting Goldsboro's city limits in Buck Swamp's front yard. That day, June 3, 2002, would prove to be the turning point in the city's quest to annex Phase 11.

In the same meeting, the council passed a resolution to mark the area to be considered for annexation. Almost two years later, on April 19, 2004, the city annexed the property, but residents spent more than $170,000 for legal representation to fight the decision. The case was heard all the way up the judicial system until the N.C. Supreme Court confirmed the lower courts' decisions. Because of the delays, the annexation became official Sept. 30, 2008.

But after two years without securing the right of way for sewer hookups, the residents of Phase 11 sought out legislation for the de-annexation. State Reps. Efton Sager of Wayne County and Stephen LaRoque of Lenoir co-sponsored a bill in the House to de-annex the area. The bill is currently sitting in committee, but with the House's recent approval of a measure to overhaul annexation rules, there is a good chance the House will send the bill to the Senate for a vote.

Looking back at the process leading up to the council's April 19, 2004, annexation of the property, King said he sees the city's shortcomings.

"Al King would not have done that had I had to initiate it," he said. "I think we could have done a better job at educating the residents before we did that. That's just my belief."

King acknowledged that while the city went through all of the mandatory avenues to inform its prospective citizens, it could have done more.

"I know they did what was required, but I'm not sure everybody took part in that," he said.

And as for the backlash from residents, he said it comes with the territory.

"You've got to be able to deal with it. If you can't deal with it, maybe you shouldn't be doing it," he said.

As for pending legislation to nullify the annexation, King said the city is pressing on with connecting the annexed area to the city's sewer line while it waits for word from Raleigh.

"That's in somebody else's hands," he said. "We have annexed them, and we are going to uphold our part of the bargain. If they say de-annex, we'll back off, but until then, we're pressing on."

As for the aftermath should the city be instructed to de-annex, King said the city would seek reparations on behalf of the taxpayers.

"We'll adjust, but we have spent already about $4 million," he said. "The citizens have spent that. It's not fair for us to walk away and say that's that. Who's going to give them the money back?"