Leaders of the Goldsboro/Wayne branch of the NAACP expressed concern this week to city leaders about a President Donald Trump likeness photo that appeared on the police chief's Facebook page.
Goldsboro Police Chief Mike West confirmed Tuesday that he added a Facebook profile picture of himself with Trump's hair, with the words: "Making GPD Great Again." But he denied that it was racist in any way.
The picture was added to his personal social media account Friday or Saturday but he removed it Monday after learning that it had offended some others.
The NAACP plans to hold a press conference today at 6 p.m. at Rebuilding Broken Places at 2105 N. William St., to voice concerns about the chief's social media activity, said Sylvia Barnes, the local NAACP president.
"As a leader in the city of Goldsboro, a department head, I think that is disrespectful to the citizens of Wayne County and the citizens of the city of Goldsboro and people working up under him," Barnes said. "I don't think it was something that was in good character for anyone that is in leadership."
Barnes met with City Manager Scott Stevens Tuesday and asked that the chief be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Councilman Bevan Foster was at the meeting, Councilman Antonio Williams was listening on the phone, and Mayor Chuck Allen was made aware of the details.
Stevens said West did not violate any city policy and did not place him on administrative leave or take any disciplinary action.
Stevens said he plans to set up a meeting between West and Barnes so the chief can have a chance to apologize.
"City employees can do what they want on their personal time, political or otherwise," Stevens said. "I don't discipline my employees for doing things that they choose to do that are legal. I don't see anything that was a violation of city policy."
Barnes said she received calls and text messages from residents who were concerned about the photo and comments listed under the picture. Barnes, who said she did not have a copy of the Facebook posting, was not able to say what type of comments were listed.
"Periodically, I'll change my profile picture," West said. "This is a picture I posted six months ago. I thought it was funny, my face with orange hair. I had no clue that somebody was offended."
Barnes said some people who contacted her believed the photo and associated comments were racist. West said the picture had no racial references, didn't include inappropriate comments and was not overtly political. He said he also doesn't know how anything associated with the picture could be viewed as racist.
"I've got no clue," West said. "I don't know what their concern is.
"I don't want to offend anybody. I would like the opportunity to apologize to the individuals who were offended by it."
Barnes said she and others view the picture as unprofessional and showing what could be perceived as bias, which could play out in West's role as police chief. Barnes said placing West on administrative leave would show residents city officials are concerned.
"That would send a message to the people in Wayne County and Goldsboro that this is something that wouldn't be taken in a light manner," she said.
And even though the picture was on West's personal social media account, she believes he should be held to a higher standard, on and off the job.
West said he doesn't believe the picture or his personal support of Trump reflects any bias in his role as chief.
"This has nothing to do with my judgment or ability to lead the department," West said. "I'm not a racist. I think this has been blown out of proportion."
He also said the words about making the police department better was intended to be more of a motivator.
Stevens said the picture didn't raise any concerns. Stating support for a political candidate, including Trump, could be offensive to some people, Stevens said.
"I really think he meant to be comical," he said. "I don't see anything that appeared racist at all. There wasn't anything that was awful or way out there.
"I think he's very sorry it bothered anyone. It's easy to paint somebody as bad, and he's not. I think he's very remorseful for offending anyone."
The city of Goldsboro does not have an employee policy that prohibits city employees from posting personal preferences on social media, whether they include religious, political or other views, Stevens said.
West's Facebook account, which appears to be deactivated, included mostly profile pictures of other people, including Marty Feldman, mostly known from his role in "Young Frankenstein, and Don Knotts from "The Andy Griffith Show."