SILER CITY — Commissioners met for their second meeting of the month Monday, where they held a public hearing about the potential extension of the mayor’s term from two to four years and approved a permit for the mural on Birch Avenue.
‘Let the people decide’
Siler City commissioners have initiated the process of changing the town’s charter to extend the mayor’s term from two years to four. The town has already submitted a bill to the N.C. House of Representatives which, upon passing, would change the term length.
The board is permitted to make the decision with just a vote, but chose to hold a public hearing on Monday evening to listen to the residents’ opinions on the matter. Prior to Monday’s meeting, the town accepted emailed or submitted comments from the public. A total of 122 residents submitted comments, with the overwhelming majority, 116 people, stating opposition to the board voting to extend the mayor’s term.
Residents who opposed the vote weren’t necessarily against changing the mayor’s term — they wanted the chance for the public to decide at the ballot box in November.
A petition submitted by Siler City resident Jimmie Pugh had more than 120 signatures and stated something “this important” should be a referendum on November’s ballot, not something the board takes a vote on.
“You promised to serve your constituency and take care of us to some degree,” Pugh said. “We think something of this impact should be decided by the people.”
Others in Monday night’s crowd felt the same way.
“I believe that governance is an issue for the people to decide,” Pamela Hall of Siler City urged the board during public comment. “The people have a decision to make, too. So I just hope you take the comments that are coming and realize that people would like to see this on November’s ballot.”
Some, however, felt the board was justified in taking a vote Monday evening.
“I believe that having a four year mayor’s term is very important for continuity, especially with the new industry coming to Siler City,” resident Denis de St. Aubin said. “The board is capable of making that decision today.”
The board decided to start the process of getting the proposition on the ballot. The ordinance will be developed by town staff to put the mayor’s term limit on the ballot in November 2023.
Tensions rise over Birch Avenue mural
Rev. Donald Matthews of Siler City requested an after-the-fact permit for the “Founders of Birch Avenue” mural during Monday’s meeting. The painting was commissioned by the group Citizens in Action in early January and was unveiled to the public Feb. 27.
The group had a different mural commissioned before in 2021, but weren’t happy with the results. When Citizens in Action had a new team assembled to paint a new mural over the previous one, they did not apply for another permit.
Matthews, however, said he spoke to Commissioner Lewis Fadely and was left with the impression no further applications were needed.
Mayor Chip Price said he thought the new mural looked better than the previous one, but he argued he didn’t like aspects of the new design. Specifically, he didn’t like the street signs on the lower right corner of the mural.
“One of the things that is precedent is murals have to be historical and accurate,” Price said. “And I don’t think there are streets with these names in Siler City.”
The street signs in question have the words “Community Pride” on one and “Citizens in Action” on the other. Matthews said the signs were meant to be a signature of sorts for the organization, as well as a reminder of the pride Siler City’s Black community feels for Birch Avenue.
“Sometimes artists take liberties, and it was fine with us,” Matthews said. “We didn’t think it would be a problem.”
This isn’t the first time Price and Matthews have been on opposing sides. Matthews opposed Price in the race for mayor in 2022 and lost. Matthews frequently asks the town questions about various issues — ranging from equity, water quality, crime rates and more — and isn’t afraid to voice criticisms.
Price asked Matthews if it was possible to change the signs to be “historically accurate” and feature real streets in Siler City, including Birch Avenue. The current mural has several mentions of Birch Avenue, including on the shop signs and depicted buildings. Matthews said because of this, changing the street signs is unnecessary.
“We came to the board, we asked for help and you said no,” Matthews said. “We got out there and scuffled, scraped and raised every dime … and you want to control what it is? There was an opportunity … there’s so many things the board could be concentrating on, and you want to concentrate on the accuracy of a mural.”
The exchange between Matthews and Price continued to escalate, with the mayor insisting the signs needed to reflect real locations in town and the pastor arguing other murals throughout town don’t meet those requirements. Matthews cited the Coca Cola mural and a rabbit mural as examples of murals not being “historically accurate.”
“Can you tell me the historical significance of the psychedelic looking mural?” Matthews argued.
Other board members felt the signs as they are were in compliance with the town’s policy on murals.
Commissioner Norma Boone, who was present at the mural’s unveiling, said there was a “sense of pride” on Birch Avenue, so it was only fitting to have that captured on the mural.
“I don’t see where that would cause any problems because it’s recognizing the group that actually sponsored the mural and then it’s also showing that there was pride in that in that street and what happened on that street,” she said. “Even though they used it a street sign, it really adds some significance to what it was.”
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Matthews’s request, with no changes necessary. Price, as mayor, only votes in the case of a tie. The board’s next meeting will be on April 3.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.