Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mayor draws heat in Selma

This is on today's N&O web site:

Mayor draws heat in Selma
Race focuses on the leadership

Peggy Lim, Staff Writer

SELMA - William Overby, who is running for mayor, was surprised when large plywood signs asking voters to elect him started popping up all over this Johnston County town.

He had not asked anyone to put up the signs. But those responsible were clearly not fans of incumbent Charles Hester.

A few even read: "Anyone but Hester."

The mayoral election Tuesday amounts to a referendum on Hester and his strong, often controversial leadership style. Although some see the developer and former Marine lieutenant colonel as dictatorial, others say he provides a willingness to make tough calls that Selma has long needed.

"He's cleaned up a lot of problems that were created many years ago," said Pat Weaver, owner of Antique Wish downtown, who said she will vote for Hester.

When Hester took office in 2005, the town was about $1.6 million in debt. The mayor led the charge to fire about half a dozen town employees and cut expenses to balance the budget.

Weaver said Overby is nice but Selma needs Hester to stay in office.

"He has a lot of irons in the fire," Weaver said. "To change horses in the middle of the stream is not wise."

But even Ron Hester acknowledges that his father has enemies.

"I've got a bull's-eye on my truck -- it says 'Vote for Charles Hester,' " said Ron Hester, 48, who works for his father's real-estate company.

Earlier this year, 10 members of Selma's fire department threw their gear onto the mayor's driveway to protest the replacement of their popular volunteer chief by a paid, full-time one. One of the firefighters was dismissed. The others stayed with the department. Hester has said the fire department needed to become more professional.

"If he wins, it's not for lack of me campaigning against him," said firefighter Mike Kendall, who has put out about six signs reading: "No Hester."

Hester also has managed to alienate traffic violators, convenience store customers and outlying neighborhoods.

The mayor had the town's District Court moved to Smithfield as a way of burnishing Selma's antique mecca image. He has been a driving force behind Selma's lawsuits against two convenience stores that he considers public nuisances. And he is pushing to force some neighborhoods to be annexed by Selma.

Hester said the lawsuits were a response to the police calls at both stores. "You wouldn't let crime run rampant," he said. "You try to do something to stop it."

And he said that involuntary annexation could add $75 million to Selma's tax base.

Hester thinks his actions will be good for the long-term health of the community even if his decisive style makes him an easy target.

"When you're very authoritative," he said, "people try to bring you down."

One of them is Tony Tetterton, who put up about 30 plywood signs against Hester. The mayor "has good intentions," Tetterton said, but is "willing to use Machiavellian methods to achieve it. That's my rub."

Tetterton first became interested in standing up to Hester last year. The owner of a park for recreational vehicles, he had pushed for a "quiet zone" so trains couldn't blow their horns in town. He said Hester prevented him from talking at a public meeting.

"He shut me down," Tetterton said. "He gaveled me down."

Ever since then, Tetterton has been a vocal watchdog at town meetings on other issues such as involuntary annexation. He has posted videos on, including one titled "King Hester holds court" that shows Hester trying to cut off Tetterton during a meeting.

Hester has said that town meetings should not be "like a big ballgame where you jump and shout and cheer" and has facilitated debate at public meetings.

Overby, chairman of Selma's recreation committee for the past four years, said Hester's decision to hand over an old school gym to a charter school instead of improving it for the town's parks and recreation department inspired him to run.

"When he arbitrarily came in and said they could get that property for $1 a year, that didn't sit well with me," Overby said. "The town's not a military base."

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