PRINCEVILLE —As a child, Yvonne Williams remembers running barefooted up and down the streets in her hometown that she described as village — like where everybody cared about one another. Her recollection of the town's political affairs was non-existent.
Today, the so-called village has turned into a town filled with economical turmoil and bitter fighting among the town's political leaders. Reluctantly, the life-long resident of Princeville said, her hometown is not the same place where she grew up.
Today, Princeville population of 2,000 is far more than when the 65-year-old Williams was playing in the streets. But the worse transformation is from the calm or unknowing of the political scene to today's bitter infighting among the political leaders. To make matters worst the town economical status has been reported as essentially broke.
"When I was growing up in Princeville, everybody was poor, but everybody got along just fine," Williams said. "When it flooded, everybody loaded up on a truck and went to Pattillo School and stayed in the gym. It's not like that anymore. We have grown apart. Everybody have their own agenda."
One of driving forces behind the division could be traced to infighting among the town political leaders. But its nothing new for the oldest town in America charted by blacks. Infighting among the board of commissioners have been documented as far back as at least 30 years including a stint when the town chartered called for 12 commissioners.
Throughout the town history, commissioners and mayors have been publicly accused of embezzlement but none has been arrested on that charge.
However, two town managers have been arrested for illegally dabbing in the town funds. Charles Tillman was arrested in 1997 and was removed from office. Thirteen years later, Sam Knight was charged with embezzling $25,000 in town funds He was sentenced to eight months in jail.
During Tillman's tenure, the board was divided 3-2 just like it is today. Another similarity in Tillman's tenure to today's board is that the North Carolina Local Government Commission took over the town's books due to the town's poor economical condition. The difference between Tillman's tenure and today's board is that when the town was going through turmoil around the 1997 time frame, citizens overfilled the town hall to the point where a few dozen stood outside meetings. Today, just a handful of citizens attend the meeting.
"I don't go because I don't want to hear that nonsense," said Lee Staton,49, a life long resident of Princeville. "It's embarrassing when I read it in the paper and I believe it would be even more embarrassing if I was there. They have tarnished the legacy of Princeville. I don't know what is becoming of Princeville. But I'm glad that LGC has taken over. Hopefully they will keep the books until the next election. By then, hopefully, the town's finance should be turned around and the citizens will elected someone who is suitable for the the board."
Princeville's next election is November 2013 with mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and commissioners Calvin Sherrod and Isabelle Purvis-Andrews on the ballot. That trio and commissioners Ann Howell and Gwen Knight virtually always disagree on issues, resulting in 3-2 votes. Howell and Knight will not be up for election in 2013.
The division has caused public and private ridicule of the town's functioning board. Some believe the dysfunctional board may be the root cause of the town's financial woes that led to LGC taking over financial operations.
"Do you think that we are better since LGC took over," Mary Harper, 72, a resident of Princeville said. "I do, but all the blame shouldn't go on one person. We had problems in this town way before this administration came in. But we need a change. We need an administration that understands the needs of the citizen needs and knows how to carry them out. It's time out for a lot of foolishness."
Williams also would like to see better leadership from the town's political leaders.
She wants the politicians to do what best for the generations that will follow.
"I don't know how all of this is going to play out but I hope that all of it will be settled in a good manner," she said. "We can't stay stuck in the mud.
"We're going to be gone after awhile and we need to leave a better legacy than what we are leaving as of right now."