MOCKSVILLE — More than 50 people gathered Tuesday inside the chambers of the Mocksville Town Board of Commissioners, and several more stood in the Town Hall’s lobby.
It was the largest crowd ever to attend the monthly meeting of the town board, Mayor William Marklin said.
The reason for the turnout? Concerns about the fate of Sgt. Butters, the feline mascot of the Mocksville Police Department, who was taken out of the department and whose Facebook page was taken down last week. A town commissioner was reportedly concerned about the cat’s presence around a pregnant employee who has said that she was cannot be around cats.
On Tuesday, the mayor attempted to reassure the crowd that Sgt. Butters is living comfortably at the home of a friend of the police department.
The American male short-hair tabby “is being well cared for and regular updates of his antics are provided to the department staff,” Marklin said. “We express our gratitude for all of the concern about Sarge Butters. He looks forward to continuing his role as (a) mascot of the community.”
Sgt. Butters didn’t attend the meeting.
Officers rescued the cat in 2018 after spotting him around the department’s building on Main Street. They nursed him back to the health and he had been allowed him to stay in the police department’s offices.
Marklin said that the year-old cat’s social media page will return soon with its usual posts and pictures.
“While decisions regarding social media and Sarge Butters are made by town management and have not been addressed by the (town) board, the commitment of this agency to protect and serve the citizens of Mocksville remains our first priority, and as always, we will protect the well-being of Sarge Butters.”
Marklin spoke about the cat before a public-comment period in which four people told the town board about their concerns regarding Sgt. Butters. Afterward, the town’s board took no action regarding Sgt. Butters, and none of the five town commissioners spoke about the cat.
Alan Bagshaw of Mount Airy, a native of Mocksville, said he was troubled that town officials haven’t spoken much publicly about the cat’s fate.
“Silence is the message that the town of Mocksville has sent, to the nation and not just Mocksville,” Bagshaw said.
“True, Sgt. Butters is just a cat. We all want what is best for him.”
Bagshaw described Marklin’s statement about Sgt. Butters as ambiguous. Rumors are circulating about the cat because town officials have declined to publicly discuss Sgt. Butters, Bagshaw said.
“If Sgt. Butters is able to be cared for, and the police department is not the suitable place for him, I understand,” Bagshaw said. “But let’s talk about it. What the town of Mocksville did is set a precedent that they will treat a living creature as just a piece of property and throw it away when it’s no longer needed.”
Susan Whitener of Advance, a representative of the Save Sarge Butters Facebook Page, said that town officials should have considered the public’s concerns about the cat.
“Then one day, last week ... Sarge was evicted from the probably only home that he’s ever known,” Whitener said. “Ripped from all of his fans and supporters, Sgt. Butters was gone. You should all be ashamed. I beg you to rethink your decision.”
Barry Williams of Advance acknowledged that Sgt. Butters is a good public-relations image for the police department, but he said that the public’s concern for him might be misplaced.
“We are sitting here worrying about a cat,” Williams said. “He has a place to eat and a place to sleep. Where are people’s concerns about the homeless people in Mocksville?
“Is all of this really necessary?” Williams asked. “It’s a waste of the public’s time.”
After the town board’s meeting, Marklin declined to say whether Sgt. Butters was living in a home in Mocksville or somewhere else in Davie County. Town Manager Matt Settlemyer declined to comment on the matter.
In addition, Police Chief Patrick Reagan declined to discuss Sgt. Butters.
“My job is to run the department,” Reagan said. “We serve and protect our citizens in Mocksville. We will continue to do that.”
Now that the city of Winston-Salem has decided to change the name of the Dixie Classic Fair, it has to come up with a new one.
City officials say they plan to start by asking members of the city council for their thoughts on a new name, and are also thinking ahead about the tasks that will have to be done to bring about the change.
“There are two pieces of it,” City Manager Lee Garrity said. “There are the hard costs of changing the signs, painting, new letterhead and so on, and there is the question of how much do you want to spend (on marketing) when you rebrand the fair? Would you use the same amount, or more?”
The council voted4-2, with one abstention, which under council rules counts as a “yes” vote, on Monday to change the name of the fair, after some residents complained in April that the word Dixie carried associations with slavery and segregation.
After an effort to have several citizen-appointed panels steer the name question, the council decided to grab the reins and do the work itself.
In part, the council was avoiding the $60,000 or so that it was estimated as the cost of hiring a consultant. The consultant’s job would have been to figure out a new name using focus groups and other marketing techniques to find a new name that would stand the test of time.
City officials said they are not willing at this point to estimate the hard costs of a name change, such as repainting and replacing signs.
The fair has got plenty of money, though. Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe said that because the fair usually makes money, the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds had built up some $2 million in reserves by June 30.
“The fair generates a net income, and we use that to carry the whole operation,” Rowe said. The Winston-Salem Fairgrounds includes more than the fair, which takes place in the fall. Other activities take place in the various buildings throughout the year.
Fair Director Cheryle Hartley said replacing everything with the words Dixie Classic on it could be a lengthy process.
“We would have to determine what signage and what painting would have to be changed,” Hartley said. “We would have to go out and get quotes. I do not have a good estimate and would not feel comfortable giving a number because I don’t know. We have signs, ribbons and banners. We have gate signs. We have neon signs over some of the archways.”
The ribbons the fair uses are replenished from time to time, but a name change means replacing the entire stock.
“We have all kinds of things that have the name on them,” Hartley said. “I have no idea where to even begin (estimating), depending on what kind of name, or logo, what these items would cost. That is what needs to be developed.”
One thing is for sure at this point: The fair that will start on Oct. 4 and wrap up on Oct. 13 will be called the Dixie Classic Fair. City officials made it clear from the start that the fair name couldn’t be changed this year because of the lead time needed for advertising and other preparations.
Garrity said a name change is possible for 2020. When the city was considering the hiring of a consultant, a date of 2021 was mentioned to give the consultant time to do the work.
Bishop Sir Walter Mack and the Rev. Alvin Carlisle, leaders in the name-change effort, told city officials in an Aug. 14 letter that prolonging the name change would continue divisions in the community. They said leaving Dixie in the fair name could make the fair become a “magnet of hate and attract those who are looking for a place to gather and promote their ideas of hate for the next two years.”
Mack and Carlisle also said that it would be hard for them to support the fair if it kept the name Dixie. They suggested Carolina Classic Fair, Winston-Salem Classic Fair or Twin-City Fair.
Hartley said efforts to promote the next year’s fair always start immediately after the current year’s fair wraps up.
“We start going to conventions as early as November, and that is where we look for entertainment and musical acts,” she said. The big event is the International Association of Fairs and Expositions convention held in San Antonio, Texas, in December. Then there are meetings of the N.C. Fair Association in January, she said.
Having the new name and timeline for getting things done should be something to have in hand when the time comes to plan for next year’s fair, she said.
“Right now, my card says Dixie Classic Fair Director,” Hartley said.
Barometric pressure was dropping Monday afternoon. Dark clouds and heavy winds rolled in, spilling the first few fat rain drops. A storm was gathering and fearful observers worried about lasting damage.
Outside City Hall, conditions weren’t much better.
A storm that we’ve seen building over the Dixie Classic Fair was about to hit. Members of the Winston-Salem City Council were certain to vote to change the name of the fair.
The details remain — What’s the new name? When does the change take effect? — but they’ll get sorted in due time.
Foregone though it may have been, a decision has been reached and for now, larger questions loom.
Will the storm over a name change amount to a momentary squall? Or will it leave long-lasting damage behind?
Extra police officers and overflow seating were both ordered by city officials well aware of the divisiveness surrounding the name change.
Seats in the (peanut) gallery filled quickly and early Monday. A murmur of discontent, accompanied by conspiratorial whispers, swept through the council chamber. They moved the public comment period to the end. After the vote. It’s rigged!
The culture wars, as if we didn’t know already, have arrived.
An overwhelming majority, more than 80 percent, of those who bothered with surveys about renaming the Dixie Classic Fair, supported keeping it the same.
Still, the name conjures up hurtful memories and hard feelings for a significant part of our community. Ignoring that based off informal polling data was never going to work; the conversation needed to happen.
The formal move — Resolution to Support Changing the Name of the City Fair — came 25 minutes into the meeting, after the council dispatched with other business. (That included giving the go-ahead to wildlife officers to cull problem deer at Smith Reynolds Airport using methods — night hunting, the use of fire suppressors — that would land Regular Camo Joes in deep scat.)
Council Member Dan Besse was first to speak up. A name change, he said, would be largely symbolic when compared with more substantive — and harder to solve — issues of racial and economic inequality.
Foisting a decision off on community volunteers on the Fair Committee or paying a consultant to figure a path forward was not the way to go.
“This is our job,” Besse said.
And so it was.
Four council members — Besse, D.D. Adams, Vivian Burke and Annette Scippio — voted in favor of the name change.
“The meaning of the name shapes itself to the experience of the beholder,” Besse said.
Adams took that as cue for further explanation in linking the name “Dixie” with segregation.
“You don’t understand when we couldn’t go downtown because there was a colored part of town and a white part of town,” she said.
Two council members, John Larson and Jeff MacIntosh, voted against the resolution. Larson called it an issue of dealing with “symbols rather than substance,” and MacIntosh seemed to oppose the process as much as anything.
Council Member James Taylor voted to abstain, which was counted as a “yes,” and offered a contortionist’s explanation. He said that because he wouldn’t push for a name change in 2015, he felt he couldn’t jump ship now
“I think the only way to keep my word and not stand in the way of progress is to abstain,” Taylor said.
Reactions, of course, were swift and not terribly difficult to anticipate.
Those who were for the change were appreciative and all in; those against bemoaned it as political correctness and disregard for survey results that showed widespread opposition.
“Words can’t express my disgust for what this council has done,” said Kris McCann during the 30-minute public-comment period that came toward the end of the meeting. “A majority of people have spoken and you didn’t want to listen.”
While the surveys and polls came out the way they did — not fake news — it is also true that those elected to the city council are accountable to Winston-Salem voters in clearly defined districts. No one else.
Bishop Todd Fulton, a supporter of the change who came representing the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, took note of the atmospherics.
“I knew everything would be OK when I heard the thunder,” Fulton said, “because I knew it was heaven applauding you.”
But how much damage was caused by this storm?
Burke and Taylor both spoke about threats and high-volume, high-heat rhetoric and phone calls that resulted from this and similar issues.
“In 2015 when I first broached this subject it was a difficult experience,” Taylor said. “I got angry messages and death threats.”
Emotions indeed ran high, and they may continue to do so.
“I think y’all have caused a divisive wedge … and made it worse,” said Richard Miller, a downtown-business owner. “There will be a political price to pay.”
For now, the storm has passed and damage is still being assessed. How much and for how long will be determined.
But one thing is certain: Nature, aided by time, heals itself. Wildfires, touched off by lightning, burn intensely and lead to healthy, new growth.
Let’s hope for the same outcome from Monday’s storm whether it be a summer squall or something more substantial.
The N.C. House voted 62-53 Tuesday afternoon to approve a bill that would force the state’s 100 sheriffs to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on detainers to hold jail inmates who might be in the country illegally.
ICE detainers can keep people behind bars for longer than they would normally be jailed on their charges.
The legislation, HB370, will go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper, who has said he opposes the bill but hasn’t said publicly whether he will veto it.
Asked for comment Tuesday, the governor’s office referred to Cooper’s comments from June.
“As the former top law enforcement officer in our state, I know that current law allows us to lock up and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status,” the governor said.
“This bill isn’t about that — in addition to being unconstitutional, it’s about scoring political points and using fear to divide us.”
The House voted on the measure mostly along party lines after its members debated the legislation for about 90 minutes. Republicans said the bill would protect public safety and that it targets jail inmates who have been charged with crimes and who are illegally living in the U.S.
Democrats said the bill is unconstitutional and unnecessary and would keep undocumented immigrants who are crime victims from reporting offenses to law enforcement agencies.
Civil rights groups and immigrant advocacy organizations also oppose legislation, saying that it’s unconstitutional and unfairly targets urban black sheriffs who have said they will not work with ICE agents in their counties.
State Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, the bill’s sponsor, said that ICE will continue to enforce federal immigration law in North Carolina no matter what happens with the bill.
“The sheriffs’ job is to do everything they can possibly do to protect the citizens in their communities,” Hall said during the floor debate.
State Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, said he opposes the bill. Montgomery said ICE detainers are requests from ICE agents, and they are not valid arrest warrants.
Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. of Forsyth County opposes the bill.
“What I have said from the beginning is that we are a law-abiding law enforcement agency,” Kimbrough said Tuesday. “While I do not currently agree with the proposed bill, I will always do what is legal, and we will enforce this if it becomes law.”
Earlier Tuesday, the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee approved changes to the legislation. The committee consists of 15 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
During the committee’s hearing, Hall said that the legislation targets illegal immigrants who are charged with criminal offenses in North Carolina and are being held in county jails.
Hall also said the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association supports the bill and worked with some legislators on changes to the legislation.
The first version of the bill included a provision that, if a sheriff doesn’t follow the legislation’s guidelines, that sheriff could incur fines of up to $25,500 per day.
The bill’s latest version removes that language.
The early version was passed by the N.C. House on April 3 by a 63-51 vote, mostly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. The N.C. Senate voted 25-18 on June 24 to approve an amended version of the bill.
The retooled legislation outlines a process in which a judge or magistrate would order whether an inmate should be held on the detainer request based on whether the inmate is the same person identified in an ICE request.
The inmate could be held for up to 48 hours after a prisoner would otherwise be qualified for release on bond.
The bill would allow a superior court judge to remove a sheriff or police officer who does not follow the legislation’s provisions and cooperate with ICE agents.