The Great Goldsboro Mayor Pro Tem Debate
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 2, 2012 1:50 AM
It had been nearly 25 years since William Goodman was first sworn in as the District 3 representative of the Goldsboro City Council, but when Goodman returned to the council after more than eight years away from City Hall, the topic he brought to the forefront was the same that was discussed when he began his political career almost a quarter of a century before.
During his opening remarks on Aug. 6, seconds after being sworn in, Goodman offered two motions concerning the process used to select the council's mayor pro tem -- a position created in the city's charter to preside over meetings and events in the case of the mayor's absence.
Different campaigns leading up to the July 17 election had taken note of the position's stagnation ever since District 5 Councilman Chuck Allen was elected by motion to the position in 2003, but Goodman directly voiced his desire to return to the system introduced during his second full month on the council in the late 1980s -- one that rotated annually and, unofficially, on the basis of race.
It was a discussion Goodman, who is black, had been at the center of more than two decades before -- one that ended with a coin flip and launched the council into an annual routine of selecting a mayor pro tem, which continued until Goodman left the council in 2004.
The mayor pro tem discussion the 2012 City Council has revisited recently actually has roots dating back to a change in the city's charter in 1987.
Prior to March of that year, all members of the then-Goldsboro Board of Alderman were chosen through an at-large election, whereby the five members elected through popular vote would serve as the city's governing board. The mayor didn't vote on measures under that system to prevent the possibility of a 3-3 tie.
But the city was under fire for its election setup, which opponents suggested did not give equal voice to minorities -- indeed there had been only one black board member in the city's history before the November 1987 election that put three black men on the council.
Under the previous system it was up to the voters to decide who would serve as mayor pro tem with the council member who received the most votes being named to the post for a four-year term. In 1987, Philip Baddour Sr. finished his second consecutive term in that role.
The new system approved in March of that year divided the city into six districts, with three designated as minority districts, meaning a majority of residents in those wards identified themselves as minorities.
While the system seemingly solved the issue of equal representation for minorities, it antiquated the mayor pro tem selection process since district voting wouldn't show a clear winner of the popular vote.
Council members in 1987 deferred a decision on the new process until the new council was chosen, meaning the issue was to be addressed after the council members were sworn in Dec. 7, 1987. That council then decided to defer action until the new year.
By January, however, both Baddour and Goodman had shown interest in the position, even as council members were still piecing together the best way to select a mayor pro tem.
At the Jan. 11 work session where the process was to be ironed out, J.B. Rhodes suggested that the position be rotated annually among the council members on a racial basis, with the race of the mayor pro tem alternating each year.
Rhodes, who was black, wanted that stipulation to be a part of the formal motion, but Harrell Everett, the city attorney, advised against that.
"You'd be ill-advised to formalize that along racial lines," he told the council, adding that such a policy might not be legally enforceable.
Rhodes eased his rhetoric, but continued to insist that it should at least be an unofficial portion of the policy.
"I think there should be an understanding, even if it's not formalized," he said.
Mildred Gaylor, the only woman to serve on the council in the city's history, expressed her concern not only that race was being factored into the process at all, but also that sex wasn't being addressed.
Rhodes suggested to Mrs. Gaylor that sex was not as vital an issue as race, a point she found contentious.
A look around the room, however, would show how keenly divided on racial lines the city was -- ever since the historic new council had first sat, the members had divided themselves up by race, sitting three to each side with Mayor Hal Plonk in the middle. It wouldn't be until the next meeting that Goodman would suggest that the council members should sit from left to right according to district number -- a policy that continues to this day.
After lengthy discussion about the role of race and the process of choosing the mayor pro tem, the proposal to rotate the position annually was approved, with the unwritten understanding that it should be passed alternatively between white and black members of the council.
But there still was the issue of starting the system -- how would the new council choose its first mayor pro tem?
The answer came Jan. 25 in the form of a quarter tossed by Plonk.
With Goodman, nominated by Rhodes, and Baddour, who was white and nominated by Plonk, both vying for the position, the council determined the coin flip was the best way to select the mayor pro tem, even as Baddour and Gaylor protested, asking that it be decided by a vote.
Baddour won, despite calling the coin flip method a "cop out," and Goodman, who called heads, would have to wait a year before becoming the council's first black mayor pro tem.
Mrs. Gaylor, who joined Baddour in voting against the coin toss, made it known that she hoped the decision would never come down to such a game of chance again.
It wouldn't, as each year the position passed seamlessly from council member to council member -- while alternating race -- for the next 15 years.
When Frederick Lutz, another minority who won a seat during the 1987 election, assumed the title in December 1992, he seemingly proclaimed an end to the era where racism factored into city politics in an unprecedented speech following his selection as mayor pro tem.
"From an ugly world of suspicions, jealousies, prejudices, racisms and conceit and the flip of a coin to determine the first mayor pro tem of the historic Goldsboro City Council of 1987, we have developed into a rational decision-making body that can objectively make decision for the best interests of the people it serves," he said.
By the next year, Baddour asked the council members if they wanted to continue rotating the position annually and, unofficially, by race since all of the members had served as mayor pro tem. Rhodes indicated he wanted to continue the rotation and the council agreed to leave the unwritten policy in place.
The rotation wouldn't be mentioned again until 1998, when the death of sitting Mayor Pro Tem Tim Bartlett caused the council to have to choose a new member for the post in October.
Rhodes said that, as part of the normal rotation, Bob Braswell or Delmus Bridgers, both white, should serve as mayor pro tem for the remainder of the year.
Bridgers moved for Braswell to be named mayor pro tem and Rhodes seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. Rhodes was chosen as mayor pro tem in January of 1999, restoring the race rotation procedure which continued until 2003 -- the last time the position changed hands.
Today's mayor pro tem, District 5 Councilman Chuck Allen, was actually nominated for the position for the first time by Goodman in January 2002. Rhodes seconded the motion and was in the position a year later when it passed from a white council member to a black council member for the final time.
Allen was again voted mayor pro tem in December 2003, but by the time it was time to select a new mayor pro tem a year later, the two council members who were there when the rotation system was installed were not on the council.
Rhodes lost in a controversial election in November 2003 whereby he was initially declared the winner before losing to Jimmy Bryan by one vote after a recount. Goodman was forced to resign in June 2004 after being convicted of a felony, leading the council to appoint Don Chatman to his post.
Allen was affirmed in January 2006, December 2007 and February 2011, and the position wasn't discussed openly again until Goodman was sworn in July 23.
Those critical of Allen leading up to the July 17 election had voiced issues with his holding of the position for so long, but the issue was ushered to the forefront within minutes of Goodman's swearing in.
During his opening address, he recalled the transition in the late 1980s from the at-large Alderman system to one where there were three minority districts and three "white districts." He noted that, under the old system, the position of mayor pro tem was alternated between white and black council members.
He made a motion that the council return to the rotation, but did not make it clear whether he meant for it to rotate on the basis of color. The motion was seconded by Michael Headen, who is black.
The measure was defeated 4-3, with Mayor Al King, who also is black, joining Allen and freshly elected council members Bill Broadaway and Gene Aycock, both white, in voting against it. The Rev. Charles Williams, also black, voted in the affirmative.
During discussions, both Broadaway and Aycock said they were unfamiliar with the issue and preferred to delay any action.
Undeterred, Goodman made another motion that Headen be named mayor pro tem, a motion Williams seconded. Again the vote was defeated along the same lines.
Aycock, in his opening remarks, said he didn't want to see the city divided based on color -- rhetoric that was picked up again during the council's next meeting.
With the mayor pro tem selection process on the agenda, Headen noted that he would be the one to tackle the race issue head on, saying that race shouldn't be a factor in determining who held the position.
Whether decided annually, biannually or quarterly, he said he had no preference, but that there should be no stipulation associated with race.
After remaining out of the bulk of the discussion, Goodman asked City Clerk Melissa Corser about the minutes from that meeting back in 1988.
She had shared the relevant portion of the city's charter and the minutes from the discussion during that meeting with the council via email Aug. 7, but noted that any formal term of office set by policy was in violation of the charter, which states the mayor pro tem "shall have no fixed term of office," and "shall serve in such capacity at the pleasure of the remaining city council and mayor."
To alter the charter, she said, would require action by the General Assembly.
The council opted to delay a decision on the position until December, in keeping with the annual selection process that was typical when the position rotated annually.
Members were hesitant to endorse a rotation system, however, as some of those on the council expressed that they had no desire to serve as mayor pro tem. Others insisted that whoever was willing to serve in the position should have the right to.
Last week, Mrs. Corser said Goodman, at one point, indicated he would be interested in rotating the position by district. Because the six council members serve four-year terms, however, that rotation could potentially exclude members from ever holding the position.
Goodman declined to comment on his motions following the meeting to clarify what type of rotation he would like to see, if any. He also did not return phone calls to his home.
Allen has said he intends to remain mayor pro tem if the council allows him, but that remains to be seen.
King said he voted against any changes to the procedure in an effort to allow the newest council members time to evaluate the measures -- something both Aycock and Broadaway said they would be able to do by December.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the moves by Goodman appeared to lend credence to concerns leading up to the election that he would cause contentious rifts among the members of the council -- Goodman's campaign actively worked to increase voter turnout for the challengers to King and Allen on election day.
Following Goodman's twin motions to remove him as mayor pro tem, Allen said he had hoped that the District 3 representative was returning to the council ready to work alongside the other members of the council to make the city a better place, but that his divisive tactics seemed to suggest he was still "the same Bill Goodman."