Council does about face

Derwin Montgomery

Council does about face
August 23
05:00 2018

Officials delay decision on how to fill Montgomery’s seat after backlash

The City Council put on hold its decision on how to pick a replacement for the East Ward City Council member after being berated by several Democrats in the ward who demanded a special election.

The City Council voted 5-3 to accept applications for East Ward Democrats once Derwin Montgomery resigns the seat and have the City Council choose his successor. Montgomery, who is also one of the Chronicle’s co-owners, was recently appointed to take the seat of N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes, who recently resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Mayor Allen Joines submitted the resolution after consulting with City Council members. He said there wasn’t  enough time for it to be on the ballot in the General Election and if a special election was held, the city would have to pay for it.

The vote divided the council, with Robert Clark, Jeff MacIntosh and James Taylor siding against it. Clark, a Republican, drew applause when he said it wasn’t right for a body with seven people who don’t live in the East Ward to decide who represents that ward. He felt a special election was worth the money.

“I think democracy doesn’t have a price to it,” said Clark.

A group of East Ward Democratic precinct chairs and residents attended with plans to advocate for a special election. They filled almost the entire 30-minute public comment session with spirited condemnation of the vote. Dee Washington said she was “appalled and ashamed.”

“As elected officials, you are willfully abridging the rights of the voters, and I am one of them,” said Washington.

Forsyth County Democratic Party Second Vice Chairman Phillip Carter praised Clark and called the council’s decision “a travesty.”

“This is the most egregious act I’ve ever seen in my life, the disenfranchisement of African-Americans who are subject to marginalization,” he said.

Montgomery said he received only two calls from people who objected to the council filling the seat and far more people who were supportive of it.

“Some of the individuals who spoke tonight also stated very clearly a position of submitting their name as a candidate, so please understand who’s influencing the conversation tonight in what you hear,” he said.

Montgomery is referring to a recent Triad City Beat article in which Carter said he’d put his hat in the ring for the East Ward seat, which he unsuccessfully challenged Montgomery for in the 2013 primary.

Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke moved to reconsider the vote on the East Ward. Council Member Denise “DD” Adams said the comments had changed her mind.

“I made a mistake and I’m woman enough to admit it,” said Adams. “You’re right, we need to let you all fight it out.”

The council voted 7-1 to reconsider. The sole “no” vote was Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher. Afterward, Taylor said that he originally supported a special election until he heard what that entailed and felt the council’s process would allow for more nominees to be considered.

A special election would have the executive committee members of the Republican and Democratic parties that reside in the East Ward select one nominee each. Those two candidates would be on the ballot in a special election for East Ward residents no later than 60 days after the seat became vacant. Since the ward is heavily Democratic, it’s likely the Democratic nominee would win.

If the council votes on the seat, there would be an advertisement once Montgomery tenders his resignation with a 14-day period for applications, which would include a resume and essays of no more than 500 words on three key issues facing the city and three key issues facing the East Ward.

The council would nominate applicants and then vote until they have two finalists which they could take comments from. The person who receives majority vote from the City Council would become the new East Ward representative.

Since there was a lack of consensus on what to do, the council continued the item. Montgomery said there are several items in the works he wants to vote on before vacating his seat, so it may be months before his actual resignation.

Another source of controversy was the council’s votes on economic assistance for business development. Two of them took place at Whitaker Park, a business park being developed on land donated by Reynolds American. Commenters accused the council of unwisely spending taxpayer money on incentives that don’t create jobs and that Adams has a conflict of interest because she’s on the Whitaker Park Development Authority. Authority board members nor the executive director receive any compensation. Council members normally only recuse themselves if they could gain financially from a vote. The Authority is one of many volunteer nonprofit boards that Adams has given her time to. 

The votes were:

*$1.25 million toward extending Akron Drive through Whitaker Park to connect with Shorefair Drive to open up 22 acres of the park for development. Durham-based Organic Transit, which makes solar powered car-bike hybrids, would like to move its headquarters there and eventually employee 500 people.

*Up to $2.46 million in incentives for Cook Medical to move to a larger space in Whitaker Park and invest $55 million there. The incentive is 75 percent of the new, net taxes generated by the project. This deal is to encourage Cook, which has outgrown its current location, to keep its 650 jobs in Winston-Salem, instead of relocating to a more ideal site in Stokes County.

*Up to $335,563 in incentives over five years to locally based National General Insurance Company to invest $12.2 million and create 626 new jobs. The incentive is 65 percent of the net new taxes generated by the project.

All the incentives passed unanimously with City Council members repeatedly explaining their necessity to create and retain jobs in the city.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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