Council formally asks mayor to resign

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 06:34 PM

In an emotionally charged special called meeting Thursday, the City Council voted 6-3 to request the resignation of Mayor Bernita Sims, despite strong opposition from her supporters who filled the council chambers.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers — who, along with Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall, called the meeting earlier this week — made a motion to ask Sims to step down. Councilman Jason Ewing seconded the motion, which also was supported by council members Jim Davis, Mendenhall, Britt Moore and Jay Wagner.
Council members Foster Douglas and Jeff Golden voted against the motion, as did Sims.
The vote does not require Sims to resign. The council has no authority to oust one of their own. Those in support said they took the action because Sims’ personal financial issues — which include a criminal investigation into her handling of a family member’s estate, as well as unpaid state income taxes and a previous city utility-bill delinquency — have underminded public confidence in the city’s leadership and have hurt the city’s image.
Sims emphatically reiterated her intention to stay in office, arguing that her financial issues are purely personal matters.
“It is not my intention to step down from this seat. It is not going to happen,” Sims said. “So, those council members who felt compelled to bring that forward and read it into the record, I hope it is also in the record that there was a room full of people who said, ‘No, that is not what we desire.’”
Numerous people spoke in support of Sims and against the council’s action.
The council made an exception to its usual procedures for public comments, which typically aren’t heard during special meetings. The council granted five speakers each for and against the motion with a time limit of 90 seconds each.
No one stepped forward to speak in favor of the motion.
A line of several people formed behind a podium to speak in support of the mayor.
After the meeting adjourned, all of the council members, except for Mendenhall and Wagner, stayed in the chamber to hear from additional speakers.
Council members who voted for the motion said they’ve been inundated for weeks by residents who overwhelmingly favor Sims leaving office.
“To accomplish its mission, our city government relies on our citizens to pay their taxes and utility bills on time,” Wagner said. “The mayor’s failure to do so over an extended period of time violates the public trust, shows a failure to lead by example and creates an impression among many citizens that a double standard exists. This situation now overshawdows nearly all of the work we do as a council.”
Moore said Sims’ problems have become a distraction that impede the city government’s ability to function.
“Many of the good people of High Point feel that the highest office has been compromised,” Moore said. “There’s now a lack of credibility and trust in this council, and many are asking for resolution and a change.”
Golden said he didn’t condone Sims’ handling of her financial affairs, but opposed asking her to resign because it’s not council’s place to seek a colleague’s removal from office based on personal feelings.
“It could only serve to divide this council and this community. I’m against any procedure for removing an elected official without direct input from the public and the people who elected them to office,” he said.
Douglas, who also has been the subject of recent calls for his resignation by council members, said the majority who approved the motion was trying to go against the will of the electorate.
“I do not believe any elected official’s personal life is any business of their colleagues or anyone else. I also believe this is another failed attempt to change the outcome of an election they didn’t agree with,” he said.
Sims said she knew before the meeting that there probably were enough votes to support the motion against her. Still, she said she is unfazed by the vote. Shortly before she stepped down from the dais, the Rev. Mike Ellerbe of New Beginnings Full Gospel Ministry led a prayer for unity as the audience held hands.
“I think it started us on the road toward doing that healing,” Sims said. “I think it was very good that the community came out, that portion of the community that I think there has been a void in responding to this. There have been calls by others to say, ‘Where is that community that supports you?’ I appreciate them coming out and letting us know what their thoughts were.”
The mayor said she’s reached out to the council to try to address her financial problems, but “they’ve not reached back.”
“The council didn’t elect me,” she said. “Citizens in this community elected me. So, I believe that, as the voice of the entire community, particularly those individuals who supported me, who need to be the ones who say, ‘We don’t have faith in your ability to do this.’ And I’ve not heard that.”