KFP: Kinston mayoral candidates take center stage


Mayoral candidate Ralph Clark, left, makes his opening statements, while John Marks, center, and B.J. Murphy listen at the mayoral forum Tuesday at community television station TACC-9 on Queen Street.

Sara Pezzoni / The Free Press

Kinston’s three candidates for mayor each had their lone opportunity to address viewers on the issues of the city on Tuesday evening.

Ralph Clark, John Marks and B.J. Murphy spoke at the TACC-9 community television station for a mayoral forum, as the three are looking to be appointed into office by the people after the Nov. 5 election.

Clark, who has spent 32 years in public office, including eight as the former city manager of Kinston, believes his extensive experience and knowledge would be vital in helping the community he has called home since 1999.

“Kinston has been great to me as a city manager and a citizen,” Clark said. “I have a lot to give, and hope (the city) allow(s) me to be the mayor.”

Clark also talked about education in his opening statement, acknowledging that the city council would not be able to intervene in the decision-making process.

“I would be remiss not to mention something about education,” Clark said. “Even though the city has nothing to do with the education in the community, it has to be supported.”

Marks, the pastor and founder of Increasing the Faith Ministries, believes Kinston needs to move in an alternate direction in fixing some of the issues in the community.

“We do need change,” Marks said. “Everybody that I ask or come in contact with, they are always saying that the city needs to be changed. I’m just grateful that our city and the leadership that is present are still doing things, but we still need solutions to a lot of problems. I just want to be an improvement on assets to the city of Kinston.”

Murphy, the incumbent seeking his second term in office, used his opening statement to speak on some of the positives he has seen in Kinston since he became the mayor in 2009.

“I have never been more excited about the opportunities before our community than I am right now,” Murphy said. “Our community is growing, and there are a lot of positive things happening. Just over the past four years, we have had a major focus on redeveloping our community, on making sure we have better streets, and we’ve had a more accountable government than ever before.”

Early voting starts on Thursday, and will run until Nov. 2, with Election Day on Nov. 5.


Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.

For more information on reruns of the city council and mayor forums, visit tacc9.com.


WITN7: Kinston Mayor – Voting Rights Ruling

By: Dan Yesenosky
Updated: Tue 11:33 PM, Jun 25, 2013

 Kinston Mayor: Voting Rights Ruling “Step In The Right Direction” For ENC

Big changes could be on the way for voters here in the east, as restrictions on voting procedures for many of eastern carolina’s counties have been lifted under a Supreme Court ruling Tuesday.

Tuesday the Supreme Court struck down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which listed 9 states and parts of 6 other states, including North Carolina, which had to get preclearance from the federal government before making any voting procedure changes, proving that they won’t discriminate against minority groups.

The ruling means those parts of the country can not be singled out.

Lenoir County is one of the 40 counties in North Carolina included in section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We spoke with Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy last night about the change He says he and others have been pushing for this change for years, especially since President Barack Obama won Lenoir County back in 2008.

“But when you send it to preclearance at the Justice Department, the Justice Department said no this negatively effects minorities, and we’re going, there’s just no way,” said Mayor Murphy.

Murphy says Tuesday’s decision is a big step in the right direction for Kinston, and most of eastern carolina which was covered by the act

SCOTUS Forces a Change in the Pre-Clearance Formula

Checks and balances do work and today is an example of why we need the Supreme Court of the United States to check the federal government, either the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch. Today, the voters of Kinston have won…at least temporarily. In 2008, voters in Kinston decided 2-1 that we should have nonpartisan elections. However, we are one of many jurisdictions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires pre-clearance by the federal government of any voting changes.

One bureaucrat in DC disagreed with the voters of Kinston and did not allow the changes, citing Section 5. This led to a lawsuit against Eric Holder, led by City of Kinston resident John Nix and others. Once this lawsuit gained enough traction the USDOJ reversed their decision, which allowed for nonpartisan elections to begin in 2013. Ultimately, SCOTUS decided to hear a Shelby County, Alabama case instead of Nix v. Holder.

Based on the SCOTUS decision today, it appears that Congress needs to change the formula, which would include the decision as to whether the City of Kinston requires pre-clearance in the future. Until Congress changes the formula, it appears that the voters of Kinston not only have nonpartisan elections, but also do not need to request permission by the federal government to make any voting changes.

To see a history on my blog of this issue, please click here. 

Kinston Free Press Radio: Interview with Mayor BJ Murphy

By Bryan Hanks and Jon Dawson

Managing Editor Bryan Hanks and columnist Jon Dawson have a very Justin Beiber-ish conversation with Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, who also discusses his plans for the 2013 municipal elections and other news topics of the day, including the Will Barker arrest. Additionally, Hanks and Dawson sit down with Free Press Advertising Director Matt Holbrook to talk about the business side of the newspaper.

Bloomberg News: Voting Rights for Blacks in ’65 Face Court Challenge

by Greg Stohr



In 2008 the majority-black town of Kinston, North Carolina, voted almost 2-to-1 to make its local elections nonpartisan. Nine months later, as the measure was set to kick in, the U.S. Justice Department blocked it.

The department’s reason: The plan would reduce the power of black voters.

The dispute in the town of 22,000 spawned a lawsuit that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court as a potential test case for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The landmark law was enacted to combat the discrimination that had kept blacks away from Southern polling booths for generations and has been used in this year’s elections to challenge Republican-backed voter- identification laws.

The suit takes aim at one of the 1965 law’s core provisions: the power it gives the federal government to block changes in local election rules, like the one in Kinston, in 16 states.

“The people wanted it, and we got one bureaucrat in D.C. that says, ‘No, you can’t have it,’” B.J. Murphy, Kinston’s white Republican mayor, said over the clinking of coffee cups at Christopher’s cafe on Queen Street, the town’s main road and unofficial dividing line separating its mostly black east side from its largely white west side.

The Justice Department has since taken the unusual step of withdrawing its objection, clearing the way for nonpartisan elections this year while complicating the legal case. The Washington-based Center for Individual Rights, which works to limit governmental power, is pressing ahead with its suit against the department and asking the high court to invalidate part of the Voting Rights Act.

Pillar Threatened

The court may decide next month whether to take up the Kinston case or a similar one from Shelby County, Alabama. The cases are separate from the legal fights over voter-ID laws, which have drawn most of the public’s attention, and wouldn’t be decided until after the November election. Even so, the Voting Rights Act challenges may have greater long-term significance, potentially undercutting federal power to block such measures in the future and wiping out a pillar of U.S. election law.

The voting law was a seminal achievement of the Civil Rights movement, outlawing the literacy tests that had been used to disenfranchise Southern blacks while giving federal officials new power to stop discriminatory election practices.

A Supreme Court fight would threaten the law’s requirement that eight mostly Southern states, and parts of eight others, get federal “preclearance” before changing their election rules. The Justice Department has used that provision, known as Section 5, to object to more than 2,400 state and local voting changes since 1982 — including new ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.

‘Beyond 1965’

Supporters say the preclearance requirement is necessary to ensure that minorities don’t lose the gains of the past half- century. Joseph Tyson, a black Kinston councilmember, pointed to the ID laws as evidence the battle for voting rights isn’t over.

“What’s the purpose of the voter ID? To keep people from voting,” Tyson said in an interview at St. Augustus AME Zion Church, a predominantly black congregation two blocks east of Queen Street. “They’re trying to take us back beyond 1965.”

The Supreme Court hinted in a 2009 case that a majority of justices may view Section 5 as no longer necessary. Saying the provision raised “serious constitutional questions” because it applied only to some parts of the country, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “we are now a very different nation” than in 1965.

Suffering Economy

The Kinston dispute takes place against the backdrop of a local economy that has suffered from the loss of textile and tobacco jobs over the past several decades. The unemployment rate in Kinston’s Lenoir County stood at 10.7 percent in July.

Along Queen Street, empty storefronts and a shuttered theater attest to a more vibrant past. A few blocks away, a vacant baseball park stands as a reminder that the town’s minor- league team, the Kinston Indians, moved to the neighboring town of Zebulon after the 2011 season.

Kinston is at once integrated and racially divided. Even as blacks and whites greet one another cheerfully in Christopher’s and the Queen Street Deli, they tend to head in different directions afterward. While the richer west side of town is multiracial, the poorer east side is almost entirely black. Kinston High School is 91 percent minority.

The city has long been Democratic-controlled. Until Murphy’s election in 2009, no Republican had captured either the mayor’s office or a seat on the city council since at least Reconstruction.

Ballot Initiative

In 2008, a group of Republicans sought to break the Democratic stranglehold. Activists gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to eliminate party primaries and the straight-ticket option for general elections. Mayoral and council candidates instead would run in a single, nonpartisan election.

“The people would be more apt to find out who they’re voting for and what their principles are and what they stand for,” said John Nix, a supporter of the measure who ran unsuccessfully for the city council in 2011.

The initiative won 64 percent approval, with voters in five of the town’s seven majority-black precincts backing it. Tyson says the black support stemmed from the way the proposal was packaged.

“It was presented to them as, ‘If you go nonpartisan, the city is 62 percent black, you should be able to win most if not all of the seats,’” he said. At the time of the vote Kinston residents had never elected a majority-black city council.

The city was poised to use the nonpartisan system in 2009 – – joining the vast majority of North Carolina cities — when the Justice Department denied preclearance, blocking the change.

Critical Support

In an August 2009 letter, acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King said the new rules would cause black candidates to lose a “small but critical” source of support: white voters driven by party loyalty to support any Democrat, regardless of race.

King said those white voters were crucial even though blacks constituted 64.6 percent of the city’s 14,799 registered voters. She said blacks comprised a minority of the electorate in three of the four most recent general elections.

The move prompted a lawsuit by Nix and other Kinston Republicans seeking the invalidation of Section 5.

‘Extraordinary Act’

“It was an extraordinary act of the Justice Department to tell a two-thirds-black majority town that it could not shift to the same form of local government election that is overwhelmingly used throughout the state of North Carolina,” said Richard Pildes, an election-law expert who teaches at the New York University School of Law.

Two and a half years later, the Justice Department withdrew the objection. In a February 2012 letter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez pointed to “a shift in the electoral patterns in Kinston elections,” including the 2011 vote that for the first time produced a majority-black city council.

Perez also cited Kinston’s rising black population, though the black share of registered voters had increased less than 1 percentage point, to 65.4 percent. The department’s shift cleared the city to hold its first nonpartisan election this November.

The move also may have undermined the legal case. A federal appeals court in Washingtonthrew out the lawsuit as moot, saying the challengers had “obtained everything that they could recover from this lawsuit.”

‘Transparent Pretext’

In their appeal, the challengers say the Justice Department withdrew its objection to avoid having to defend Section 5 in court. The new evidence cited by Perez was a “transparent pretext,” the group argued.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler declined to comment.

Even if the high court rejects the Kinston and Shelby County appeals, the preclearance requirement’s days are probably numbered, says Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York.

“Assuming the composition of the court remains the same, the question is not whether the court will strike down Section 5 but how and when,” said Persily, who specializes in voting rights and election law. “Will Section 5 die a death of 1,000 cuts or one swift blow?”

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


KFP: City officials concerned over proposed omnibus bill

by David Anderson

It’s a mouthful of a name: Proposed Senate Committee Substitute 156, or Kinston/Lenoir & Greene Counties Omnibus.

The bill is a potpourri of local initiatives Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, has been working to get passed in Raleigh.

Those proposals include a voter ID requirement for Greene and Lenoir County voters, a prohibition on Sunday voting in Greene and Lenoir Counties, a requirement that the city of Kinston cannot be divided into electoral districts until one “nonpartisan plurality” election has been held, and more.

The parts which concerned Kinston officials the most this week included requirements to treat utility customers living inside and outside the city limits equally, and provide equal access to municipal utility services inside and out.

The omnibus bill also prohibits Kinston from transferring money from one fund to another — Kinston and other municipalities around the state often balance their budgets with hefty transfers from utility funds to their general funds.

City Manager Tony Sears and Mayor B.J. Murphy recently told City Council members the legislation could force the city to offer the same utility rates to inside and outside customers, meaning a double-digit rate increase for city water and sewer customers — rates could increase by as much as 19 percent for water and 11 percent for sewer.

The city budget for next year includes an $800,000 transfer from the electric fund to help balance the general fund. City officials estimate property taxes would have to increase by as much as 6 cents to cover the gap if they could not make the transfer.

“If this does go through, we would have no other recourse but to implement those fees,” Sears said.

The text of the bill states of the utility section: “This Part applies only to the City of Kinston,” and it takes effect June 30.

Members of the council agreed Monday to table a vote on next year’s budget — which must be approved this month as the fiscal year begins July 1 — until they can get more information and talk to area legislators.

Murphy said Wednesday he had since spoken with LaRoque and asked him to consider removing the utility fund portion “because it would have a tremendous negative financial impact on our city and our customers.”

The mayor said LaRoque told him he would see what he could do.

LaRoque said this week the bill as it is written is far from finalized, and he has not submitted anything for consideration by the General Assembly yet.

“I haven’t filed anything,” he said. “This is all just preliminary work I’m doing on a local bill.”

LaRoque said he was “trying to find a way to bring equality” to outside water customers who have to pay higher rates than customers inside the city.

The legislator said the bill as it is — which must go before a committee in the N.C. Senate — will most likely be broken up.

On Wednesday, LaRoque said time is running short for the 2012 legislative session. He stressed the proposals are still in draft form, and “it’s not unusual” to never file legislation he has drafted.

“I’m not sure how much — if any — of that local bill we’re going to be able to take up this session,” LaRoque said.


David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or danderson@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.


Video: Reece Gardner April 10 2012

Live interview with local TV host Reece Gardner begins at 17:20.  We had a fun time discussing state and local elections for 2012 and a few other topics.  Reece is a legend in is own time.  I thoroughly enjoy being a guest on his show.

Reece Gardner – April 10 2012


USDOJ pre-clears Kinston nonpartisan elections

Late Friday, the USDOJ pre-cleared Kinston nonpartisan elections.  Read: USDOJ Letter Pre-Cleared 2012-02-10

Here are some of my thoughts:

As someone who went door to door collecting signatures for the nonpartisan ballot, I feel a sense of vindication today.  The previous city council not only wouldn’t allow the measure on the ballot in 2009, but wouldn’t even appeal USDOJ’s decision when two-thirds of their citizens voted for it.  This is a victory for the citizens of Kinston!  However, after reading the final letter from USDOJ pre-clearing Kinston to have nonpartisan elections in 2013, I’m actually disgusted at the politics played by the Obama and Holder administration and I hope this issue isn’t over.  Let me explain.

The centerpiece of USDOJ’s reason for flip-flopping on this issue is built upon a very weak argument.  The “information that is now available” includes the fact that the census over the last decade (2000-2010) shows an increase in registered black voters from 58.8 to 65.0 percent.  However, the USDOJ fails to mention the fact that there’s been little to no change (0.4%) in that same demographic from 2009 (when the vote in question took place) to 2011 (when the school board submitted data from the 2011 elections).  In their own letter, dated August 17, 2009, they acknowledge that 64.6% of the city’s registered voters were African-American.  Yet, in the new decision they center their argument around the fact that the number is now 65.4%.  And, that’s what they call “a substantial change in operative fact”?

The USDOJ also fails to simply admit that ANY population, which has a majority of the registered voters in an area, is more than capable of electing candidates of choice.  They want to avoid this discussion because it calls in to question the validity of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The USDOJ even has the audacity to point out that the 2011 City elections had a majority of black voters, who coincidentally elected the first majority black city council.  Certainly we can celebrate the latter, but that has been possible for about two decades in Kinston.  And what electoral process change occurred from 2009 to 2011 to allow that to happen? None.  The people voted to make that happen.

The USDOJ should have listened to the WILL OF THE PEOPLE when two-thirds of our community voted to have nonpartisan elections in the first place.  If that had been the case, then the 2011 city elections would’ve been nonpartisan.  Meaning the city taxpayers would’ve saved roughly $20,000 in primary election costs.

The current litigation LaRoque, et. al. versus Holder doesn’t just challenge the USDOJ’s decision in Kinston’s nonpartisan case, it actually challenges the fact that we still have to be pre-cleared at all. By USDOJ’s own admission, Kinston has proven that the black population can elect “candidates of choice.”

The USDOJ will use their new-found approval as an argument for the courts to dismiss that same litigation. However, the challenge should actually receive a boost in it’s argument since the USDOJ has flip-flopped based on their interpretation of “information that is now available.”  They simply have built a house of cards to appease politicos and not Lady Justice.

This certainly strengthens John Nix’s argument that he, as an unaffiliated candidate, is discriminated against by the very law (Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act) that is meant to protect minorities.  And, USDOJ has probably done more to ensure this should go to the Supreme Court than they have in trying to undo this mess that they created.

There was no “shift in electoral pattern” from 2009 to 2011 as cited by USDOJ as a reason to flip-flop on their decision.  This is pure politics by the Obama and Holder administrations to attempt avoiding the constitutionality challenge of the pre-clearance process altogether.

For more background on this issue, visit: https://bjmurphy.org/mayor-murphy-responds-to-usdoj-letter-regarding-nonpartisan-elections/

InFocus with Martha Bishop – 2/7/2012

Martha and I discuss the Monday, February 6th Kinston City Council meeting.  Some topics include:
Urban Redevelopment Plan
Award for Pastor Robert Brown
Boy Scout recognition
CSS Neuse II fundraiser
American Idol contestant Ashlee Altise
Ballistic Vest Grant
Black & Veatch settlement of $500,000
City auditor contract
City board vacancies
Nonpartisan elections and USDOJ



KFP: Feds rethink stance on Kinston voting

by Justin Hill
Kinston Free Press

Five weeks after a federal judge rejected a constitutional challenge presented by local advocates of a nonpartisan voting system in Kinston, the U.S. Department of Justice has softened the hard-line opposition that has kept the issue in federal court for more than a year.

In a letter received by city officials this week, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote, “It appears that there may ‘have been a substantial change in operative fact’ such that it is appropriate to reconsider the … objection concerning the City of Kinston.”

The Justice Department in 2009 halted an effort by the city to change its current partisan voting system, where candidates are identified by party labels. As part of its review of election changes required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department maintained that a nonpartisan system would limit the ability of black voters to elect “candidates of choice.”

That decision rejected the results of a 2008 referendum in which Kinston voters sided 2-to-1 with a nonpartisan system; but the Kinston City Council did not appeal the Justice Department’s decision. Instead, a group of Kinston residents took the issue to federal court in a suit designed not only to change the voting system here but to challenge the constitutionality of Section 5.

Since December 2010, the plaintiffs, assisted by the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, have locked horns with the Justice Department in three hearings.

The department’s apparent changed position — which “does not constitute a final decision,” Perez wrote — apparently stems from the Lenoir County Board of Education’s proposal to hold non-partisan elections. In September, the board of education was given the opportunity to change its selection method under legislation sponsored by state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit.

In researching election data as part of the pre-clearance procedure for the school board change, the DOJ contends information surfaced then, along with 2011 general election data, caused officials to rethink the position on city elections.

In November, for the first time in “modern” times, “black voters … elected their candidates of choice to a majority of the seats on the Kinston Council,” Perez wrote. Three Democrats, including two minority candidates, won seats. The percentage of black voters in Kinston has increased from 58.8 to 65 percent during the last 10 years.

However, LaRoque doesn’t believe 2011 election results spurred the change.

“The attorney general’s sudden and late change of heart has little to do with any changes in voting patterns in Kinston,” he said. “Rather it is a pretext to avoid having to address the constitutional issues raised by our case. We are confident the courts will see through the attorney general’s ploy.”

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, a Republican, calls the letter “a marginal victory,” but believes the posturing is an effort to “save face.”

“The USDOJ has failed to prove that anyone in these modern times has ever been denied the right to vote based on the color of their skin or the party they choose to affiliate with,” he wrote in a letter to Perez on Thursday. “Whether someone decides to cast a vote or not, it is their decision and not the responsibility of the federal government to impose unconstitutional and subjective credentials for an election.”

Murphy contends the Justice Department could have reached the same conclusion three years ago and added November’s general election should have been nonpartisan.

 “It appears the Department of Justice is manipulating the Voting Rights Act to fit whatever is convenient to them,” he said, adding he believes it is an attempt to halt a potential Supreme Court case, which could rule Section 5 unconstitutional.

City Council Chairman Joe Tyson, a Democrat, did not have a response about the letter. The current board is made up exclusively of Democrats and the mayor is the lone Republican, although he votes only in case of a tie.

“I really have no comment on it at this time,” he told The Free Press on Thursday. “(I believe) we need to let the process go through the system.”

George Graham, the chairman of the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners, has worked to prevent nonpartisan voting in Kinston and Lenoir County. He said he had not read the letter and could not comment Thursday.

The DOJ states it expects to issue a determination for both the LCPS Board of Education and Kinston City Council on Feb. 10.


Justin Hill can be reached at 252-559-1078 or jhill@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjhill.