Beaufort County’s legal eagle still going strong|Hall of Fame adds Billy Mayo to roster

Published 4:22 am Sunday, June 28, 2009

Staff Writer

In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president, the Tet Offensive was launched in Vietnam and Billy Mayo became attorney to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners. He’s been at the job ever since.
And just recently, he was inducted into the North Carolina Bar Association’s General Practice Hall of Fame.
Mayo didn’t set out to be a lawyer, though: Instead, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in chemistry. But there wasn’t much need for chemists in Beaufort County then, so Mayo returned to Chapel Hill to get a law degree and follow his father into the profession.
The Daily News sat down with Mayo to ask him about current issues, being county attorney and the changes he’s seen since hanging up his shingle.
1.) How much of your time do you spend on county business?
“Because of my age, I’ve tried to limit my time. … It depends. … A lot of times I have to sit with the commissioners, (such as) when they go ahead and set up the budget for each fiscal year.
“I’m just there (to) make sure they don’t do anything too bad. … It’s not anything that you do too much, or work related, but you just have to be there.”
2.) You’ve been county attorney for 41 years. Why have you stuck with it so long?
“Sometimes I don’t know how to quit. All I can tell you is that I’ve been doing it that long, and, thus far, my various boards and commissions have been willing to accept my services.
“I’ve enjoyed it, you know. It’s a very political type of position in the county, and I like government.
County government is extremely interesting to me, and I’ve seen it for so many years and seen the transitions that have occurred over that period of time. It’s just something I’ve been doing all these many years.”
3.) What are some of the changes you’ve seen in that time?
“When I first came aboard back in about ’68, our meetings were much more informal than they are (now). They weren’t televised. They weren’t even taped. … The restrictions on government and governing at that time weren’t near as tedious as they are now, and it was always interesting.
“The folks would come into these very informal meetings, and they could bring their complaints in to the commissioners, which was sort of like a town meeting-type situation.
“You’ll be getting to some more questions in a bit about legal matters that have been handled by the county, and all I can tell you is, most of the toughest ones we’ve ever had, it always in some way or another has been … related to education, and we’ve had a lot of litigation in our county.
“… Back … about the time I came aboard, around ’68 or ’70, there was a consolidation of schools at that time. And, of course, one of the underlying things that was occurring at that time (was), we were going away from segregation trying to integrate the school system, and that was a hot topic in that period of time.”
4.) What are your thoughts on the Board of Education’s current lawsuit against the commissioners, which is being decided by the N.C. Supreme Court?
“You know, in thinking about it, really what can they do that’s going to do anything to make it any better, versus the way it was?
“… To me, that litigation is already about over with, about moot, unless the court surprises us and comes out with something. And they may. You don’t ever know. … When you’ve got your problems, you turn it over to the court system, you take your chances.”
5.) What’s the most exciting legal matter you’ve handled?
“None of it’s been exciting. A lot of it’s been very, very tedious and time consuming. I’d say that they were matters that gave you great concern and that they weren’t extremely exciting.
“It was just they came along and, finally, they came to a conclusion, not always the way folks wanted them to be concluded, but they did get over with, whether for good or bad.
“And of course the biggest that we’ve had … is, I think, when we got into the federal court case. That would be the David Moore case against the county in trying to get minority representation on the board of county commissioners.
“That would be, I guess you would call, the most exciting. … It was in federal court, and it went on up to the Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, (Va.). and that’s when we achieved limited voting.
“I don’t believe that’s what everyone wanted, including the board of commissioners. … I think it was thrust upon the county commissioners because they said they were willing to consider any options. And as soon as they made that statement, the courts took it and ran with it.
“It resulted in not only people obtaining minority representation on the board of county commissioners, but it also gave the Republican Party a rather tremendous step ahead. …Prior to that … we had five commissioners, (and) basically they were white and they were all Democrats. Folks used to call them the ‘good old boys.’”