The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

August 16, 2013

Mayor Morris' resignation a mystery


TARBORO — One day after Mayor Donald Morris announced his resignation, there are still no clear indications of what led to his decision.

The 71-year-old lifelong Tarboro native resigned abruptly Wednesday by way of a 28-word letter that read, "Effective today, August 14, 2013, I tender my resignation as mayor of Tarboro. It has been my pleasure to serve the town I love for these many years."

Morris's resignation came one day after a lengthy town council meeting that included an hour-and-40 minute closed session in which no action was taken. which apparently still was not enough time to complete. The council recessed the session and recalled the meeting for 7 p.m. Monday.

Morris was by far the most senior member on the council. He was elected as a councilman in 1981. Fourteen years later he was appointed mayor. After he was appointed, Morris was elected without opposition the remainder of his political career.

Now serving in his sixth year, Al Hull, is now the council member with the most seniority. Before Hull was elected, the board was known for its long tenured council. Since 2007, approximately 132 years combined years of service has left the council. The town also lost its 24-year veteran town manager, Sam Noble, to retirement two years ago.

While Noble and his veteran councilmen were at the helm, town meetings often lasted a little over 30 minutes and usually with few lengthy discussions or confrontations. All of that took a drastic change in 2012. Lengthy  — and sometimes heated — debates have caused meetings to be drawn out to well over an hour. Morris often showed his dissatisfaction with the long meeting.

Monday's meeting lasted well over two hours plus an additional one-hour-40 minutes in the closed session. Morris recessed the meeting and, according to a council member, he did not show any indication he was entertaining thoughts of resigning. Two days later, Morris handed his resignation letter to Mayor Pro Tem Taro Knight.

After reading the letter, Councilman Rick Page said he had "No idea. I feel it was the stress after (Monday) night's meeting."

When Morris announced he would not seek reelection, rumors spread like wildfire that Knight was going to run for the seat. Knight quickly squashed those rumor citing, "I'm not interested in being the mayor of Tarboro at this time."

But Morris' resignation thrusts him to the highest ranking position on the council. However, Morris will not be replaced. Knight said the council will vote to give him the power of a mayor and he will continue to exercise his right to vote. Knight explained if he was appointed mayor, it would automatically terminate him as Ward 7 council — the seat for which he filed for reelection.

"I don't think that would be in the best interest of this board," he said.

The municipal election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Morris announced in May that he would not seek reelection, but three candidates did file, including four-year council member Rick Page, Donnie Hale and John Wooten.