The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 24, 2013

Princeville meeting ends awkwardly


PRINCEVILLE — PRINCEVILLE — A commissioner's failure to leave by order of the mayor led to a 5-minute recess and then the postponement of the town's monthly meeting.

Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates called the recess Monday night after she attempted to silence Commissioner Gwen Knight, who was asking the chief of police questions. Before she asked the question, Knight made a comment to a citizen who had made a remark out of order.

Everette-Oates told Knight not to talk to the citizens. While Everette-Oates was chastising Knight, the Ward 1 Commissioner continued to ask the police chief questions.

Everette-Oates deemed Knight's action "out of order" and she asked Chief Joey Petway to remove her from the board room. She then called for a 5-minute recess and walked out of the board room with Commissioner Isabelle Purvis-Andrews following her. Commissioners Ann Howell, Calvin Sherrod and Knight remained in the board room.

Thirty minutes later, while Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews were still absent, Howell, Sherrod and Knight called the meeting back into order only to adjourn it. Howell, who is the longest tenured commissioner, called for the motion that stated the meeting will be adjourned until further notice. Sherrod and Knight voted to adjourn it.

On Tuesday, Sherrod expressed his disappointment in having to suspend the meeting.

"We needed to have that meeting because we have a lot of work to do," he said. "We can't depend on the LGC to do everything for us. There are things that we have to do for our citizens. I'm tired of a lot of foolishness. It doesn't look good. It's bad for the town."

Everette-Oates said she felt as though she had no other choice but to ask Knight to leave because she was out of order. It has been well documented that the two board members are at odds. Everette-Oates has removed Knight from meetings twice citing the town's "Anti-Disruption Policy." During those meetings, Knight continued to talk after the mayor asked for silence. The policy was composed to keep order during town meetings.  

"She yelled out to a citizens telling them to shut up," Everette-Oates said. "You talking disorderly to us and then you going to yell at citizens too. It doesn't matter what the citizens said.

"When you remove respect and order it calls for law. This has been going on for three years."

Knight argued saying Everette-Oates has violated her rights as a commissioner by attempting to silence her during meetings and forcing her to leave. Knight said she was "fed up" with those antics.

"I was voted in as the commissioner of Ward 1 and I made an oath to do what's best for the town of Princeville," Knight said. "How can I do that if I can't talk during meetings. If she calls voicing my opinion or stating a fact during a public meeting disrespectful, then I'm disrespectful. And I'm going to continue to be disrespectful as long as I have an opinion or fact to bring to the board."

The meeting lasted about one hour before it was recessed. As of Monday night, the mayor said she didn't know exactly when she will reschedule the meeting.

"That was disrespectful to the board and the citizens for her to call a 5-minute recess and doesn't show back up," Howell said. "We had a lot of work that we needed to cover in closed session. Now because of her unprofessionalism, it has to wait."

The meeting got off to a rocky start when Everette-Oates read a letter written by her personal lawyer, Malvern King, concerning a response to the state auditor investigative report of the town's audit. In that report the state auditor charged the mayor, Purvis-Andrews and former interim town manager Maggie Boyd had used town funds without proper receipts or paperwork.

The letter states that "There is clear evidence of collusion between officials of the Local Government Commission, the State Auditor's office and some members of the Princeville Town Commission to prevent Mayor Oates' side from being heard." It also suggest that a response written by Watts was legal but was not placed in the auditor report because "the LGC, the state auditor, and Mayor's Oates political opponents took action to suppress that response."

During the town's March 25 meeting, the board voted 3-1 in favor of Watts to respond to the audit report. Howell, Knight and Sherrod voted in favor of it and Purvis-Andrews sided against it. Three days later, the board called for an emergency meeting and only Howell, Knight and Sherrod attended. The board unanimously voted to rescind the March 25 vote and disallowed Watt's response.

"It had too much stuff in it that we just didn't agree with," Howell said.

The only good news that was reported during the meeting, Petway announced that his department received a new patrol vehicle. The black Dodge Charger that cost the town $7,700, was parked directly in front of the town hall during the meeting. Petway used funds collected from the town surplus items and a calendar fund raiser to assist with the purchase. The town gave approximately $2,000 toward the purchase. Petway said it is likely that he will purchase another vehicle shortly after the town's budget is passed.