Saturday, June 3, 2023

Navassa native Thurman Everett sworn in to town council after squabble between members

Thurman Everett shaking Navassa Mayor Eulis Willis’s hand after being sworn in. (Carl Blankenship/Port City Daily)

NAVASSA — A Navassa native took a seat among the town’s council after a protracted process and verbal spar Thursday night.

Thurman Everett was sworn in to fill a vacancy left by James Hardy, who stepped down from his seat in November.

READ MORE: Navassa tables town council appointment to January citing voter registration issue

Everett was born in the area before Navassa was incorporated and enlisted in the United States Army in 1956. He served 20 years and retired as a master sergeant. 

Some of his duties, top secret at the time but declassified by Bill Clinton in the 1990s, involved transporting oil to create the country’s strategic reserve, he told Port City Daily

After retiring from the military, Everett became a Baptist preacher and holds a pair of theology doctorates. He has been a proponent for economic development in the town for years.

Everett offered his vision for the town during the meeting.

“I’ve served in various capacities around the world, but I’m honored to have been asked to serve here in the land of my birth, the land of my forefathers,” he said. “It is my goal that I will be able to share some of the things that the Lord has blessed me with.”

The lack of basic businesses and the ability for Navassa residents to spend their money locally propelled his interest to run for office. He decried that development has stopped just on the border of Navassa and its neighboring town of Leland.

“This town doesn’t have any economic standards for our young people,” Everett said. “We don’t have nothing for after school. They want to make a hotdog or flip a hamburger after school;, they just want to be independent, learn how to work and learn some responsibilities. We’ve forced everything out.”

He said improving the town is a lot of work, but the process is simple: the infrastructure is already in place, but the town needs to sell its own program, step forward in faith and make investments, such as beautification.

Everett has been vocal in the past about trying to bring economic development to Navassa. He spearheaded the effort to make the Lena Springs neighborhood a reality, with the goal of offering affordable housing. The neighborhood, now with more than 100 homes, is named after his mother.

The town’s economic prospects took a major blow in the wake of DuPont closing a chemical plant in 2013 and laying off 600 employees. Over the years, a number of fertilizer manufacturers operated in Navassa, but subsequently closed their doors. At one point, 4,000 people were employed in the town’s fertilizer business.

Navassa does have some economic prospects on the horizon, as it is rife with prime real estate being located between Leland and Wilmington and adjacent to major thoroughfares.

Samet, a company that specializes in building speculative commercial properties, is constructing a 200,000-square foot speculative building on Cedar Hill Road, with an 80,000 square foot building tentatively planned at an adjacent site.

Rather, he wants to remain focused on the town he loves and its people. 

“The secret is the love of God and the love of humanity,” he said.

When asked about infighting the board has endured recently, Everett said: “I’m not into that. I don’t plan to get into that.”

A squabble preceded his swearing-in Thursday, after an extended effort to fill Hardy’s seat.

The board had a discussion about fulfilling the seat on its December meeting agenda, but the council tabled it. They opted to get advice on whether one of the three applicants was eligible due to an expired voter registration in Wilmington.

In January, the issue was on the agenda again, but council did not form a quorum. Only Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Lee Merrick and councilman William Ballard were present. Councilwoman Ida Dixon reported she contracted Covid-19 and councilman Ernest Mooring said he was being tested at a VA clinic after he was exposed to the virus. Mayor Eulis Willis cited car trouble as his reason for not attending.

The board met in a special meeting on Jan. 27 to take up the seat opening; members’ votes were split, though one candidate won out. Ballard and Merrick voted for LaTonya Lowe, while Dixon and Mooring voted for Everett. Willis broke the tie in favor of Everett, but this led to a discussion about whether he was allowed to break the tie.

The issue of the tie-breaker resurfaced Thursday evening, as the council was preparing to approve the agenda. Ballard motioned to table swearing in Everett because of legal questions.

Ballard’s motion was interrupted by Merrick chiming in with his own set of questions for the attorney, which led to bickering with Willis. 

“Could you please let me do what is needed and what is necessary?” Merrick asked at one point.

Willis replied the questions were not needed or necessary — but before one was asked.

Merrick’s argument was Willis did not have the authority to break the tie. He cited a technicality that the board was following the nomination, rather than the appointment process outlined in North Carolina General Statute, which is true. He also questioned whether Willis has the power to break ties in any circumstance because the town’s 1977 charter names the town’s first mayor, Louis Brown, when discussing breaking ties. The idea was that only Brown, specifically, was granted that authority.

Willis replied he settled tie-breakers for the past 23 years he has been mayor. Blanchard agreed it is generally established mayors hold such power, just not during the nomination process. 

However, he noted the issue is irrelevant because there is majority board support for Everett and the process would arrive at the same conclusion, regardless.

“We’re arguing about something that’s not going to make a difference here either way,” Blanchard said, adding in the event of a stalemate the board would have to make an appointment by majority vote anyway.

Merrick also took issue with the minutes of the Jan. 7 meeting; he wanted to change the language to reflect the technicality of nomination. The minutes say Merrick made a “motion” instead of a “nomination.” The move to change the word was shot down by Dixon, Mooring and Willis.

Merrick and Willis continued to spar throughout the meeting.

“Mayor, not only are you ignorant, you’re silly too,” Merrick said after Willis chided him for his failed runs for mayor.

Ultimately, Everett’s swearing in was allowed to go through.

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