12/04/12 — Headen to lead Council

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Headen to lead Council

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 4, 2012 1:46 PM

Nine years after District 5 Councilman Chuck Allen assumed the position, the city of Goldsboro has a new mayor pro tem.

District 1 Councilman Michael Headen was unanimously selected by his fellow council members Monday to serve as council's mayor pro tem, whose responsibilities are to lead the council in the mayor's absence and to represent the council at community events when the mayor is unable to do so.

The council vote ended a months-long conflict among council members about the way the mayor pro tem is chosen and also addressed concerns raised leading up to the election about Allen's long tenure in the position.

Prior to a rewriting of the city's charter in 1987, the candidate for council who received the highest vote total served a four-year term as mayor pro tem, but the charter's change to a ward system that year made that method obsolete.

That council, featuring a newly elected William Goodman, determined to rotate the position annually among the council members, although the charter explicitly states the mayor pro tem "shall have no fixed term of office."

An additional wrinkle to that decision was then-councilman J.B. Rhodes' suggestion to rotate the position unofficially by race.

Rhodes intended for that to be formally a part of the process, but the city attorney at that time advised against it.

Still, the council followed that formula -- rotating annually and based on race -- for 15 years until Allen took the position.

He was reaffirmed in 2006, 2007 and 2011, but said Monday night he felt there were those within and without the council who were pushing against his reaffirmation as mayor pro tem.

Allen said during the council work session that Goodman and Wayne County Republican Party Chairman Bob Jackson were working "behind the scenes" to prevent him from continuing to serve as mayor pro tem.

Allen said he felt he had done a good job in the position -- rhetoric his fellow council members, including Goodman, would revisit later during their respective reports -- and that he was willing to continue serving.

It seemed the council was on the brink of a highly divisive vote before Allen pivoted.

"But I feel like it's not worth dividing this council," Allen added before quickly motioning that Headen be mayor pro tem.

Three seconds to that motion came so quickly from council members that it was difficult to determine who had voiced it first. City Clerk Melissa Corser recorded that District 4 Councilman Rev. Charles Williams delivered the second.

The vote was unanimous.

Following the work session, Goodman said he hadn't called council members about Allen, and instead insisted that he had only heard concerns from citizens.

"I've had a lot of my constituents concerned about the length of his term and (said they) think that he should give it up," Goodman said.

Jackson, who was at the work session, said he had conversations with the council members, but that they were one-on-one discussions that weren't out of the ordinary and not to the extent that Allen claimed they were.

Jackson said he understood the mayor pro tem position wasn't any additional power, since it was only a redundancy in case the mayor was out of pocket, but noted he felt the position should still rotate more often than once every nine years.

"(Allen) even indicated that he had been there for a long time and it was time for a change," Jackson said, attempting to paraphrase Allen's words.

The discussion wasn't completely settled, however, as Goodman made an unscheduled motion during his report at the end of the regular session that the mayor pro tem position rotate annually and numerically, by district, beginning with Headen, continuing with District 2 Councilman Bill Broadaway and so on.

If a council member did not want to serve, as Broadaway has previously suggested, the next in line would have the opportunity.

Besides violating the charter, because terms of office typically last four years, it would result in two of the council members potentially having no shot at the title, a concept that is especially noteworthy since the terms each council member won during the summer elections are only three-year terms. The election was delayed from November 2011 due to redistricting and the next election is scheduled for November 2015.

Goodman's motion died for a lack of a second.

Speaking after the meeting, Allen said again that Goodman and Jackson had worked to generate resistance to his being reaffirmed as mayor pro tem, but said there was nothing wrong with it.

"It's their right," he said.

As for the council's new mayor pro tem, he said he had been taken aback by his sudden selection to serve.

"I was taken by surprise by the whole thing," he said.

Headen reiterated what he had noted during his closing comments, calling Allen a class act and adding that he had a "huge pair of shoes to fill."

Looking forward, he said his goal would be unison among the council members.

"I'll do everything I can, to the best of my ability, to keep us united," he said.