Resolution renaming civic center stirs up controversy

Published 8:24 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Community Editor

A resolution passed by the Belhaven Town Council at its meeting on Jan. 25 that removed the name of former mayor Dr. Charles O. Boyette from the town’s civic center has received a backlash from the town’s black community.
The resolution states that public buildings and streets in the town will not be named after living persons. The only public building or street in Belhaven that fit this criteria when the resolution was passed was the Boyette Civic Center, which was renamed the Belhaven Civic Center, according to Town Manager Guinn Leverett.
Referring to the rich black history of the building, Councilman Robert Stanley said addressing it as the Boyette Civic Center “causes conflict between people.”
The building was purchased by members of the town’s black community and given to Beaufort County Schools to be used as a lunchroom at all-black Belhaven High School, according to “Town of Belhaven Centennial,” a book commemorating the town’s 100th anniversary. The cafeteria was converted into a locker room at Belhaven Elementary School. Beaufort County Schools was set to burn the locker room down in the late 1970s, when the town stepped in to preserve the building.
Mayor Boyette and the Belhaven Town Council had already been weighing the possibility of opening a civic center for some time.
“Several people came to me about having a place where they could have special social events,” Boyette said. “So when I saw the school was being burned, I intervened.”
The town purchased the building from the school system, then purchased a piece of land on Pungo Street from James Yonce.
The Belhaven Civic Center was opened and dedicated in November 1979 and named in honor of Boyette, who provided strong support and leadership for the project, according to “Town of Belhaven Centennial.”
Boyette said former councilman Herbert Snell suggested the civic center be named after the mayor.
“I said, ‘Herbert, I don’t necessarily want that,’” Boyette said.
Against Boyette’s advice, Snell made a motion approved by the council to name it as such.
“The town council, in essence, named the civic center,” Boyette said.
Cynthia Heath, president of the Belhaven Alumni Club, said the club, and the black community as a whole, didn’t have qualms with the town naming the building after its white mayor.
“There were no complaints,” she said.
Heath said that for the town council to assume the black community is not comfortable with the name some 30 years later is ridiculous.
“If there was going to be an argument or complaint, it would’ve been done 30 years ago,” she said. “What they’ve done is not indicative of the black community.”
Heath, who served on the town council from 1995 to 2007 and has been the president of the Belhaven Alumni Club since 1973, said she has never received complaints about the civic center from her constituency. She said the council is using the black community as a front.
“They are saying the black community wanted the name changed. That is not true; not people that support the alumni association,” Heath said.
She said the town council, including black councilmen Stanley and Howard Moore, are shielding the real reason for the resolution.
“No one has any legitimate concerns,” Heath said.
Boyette said the resolution is another way for the current town council and mayor to discredit him.
“It’s an attempt to politically and personally get back at me for what I believe in,” he said. “I disagree with what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”
Boyette said he logged over 100 hours of labor and put thousands of dollars into the civic center.
“I put a tremendous amount into it,” he said.
Boyette said the civic center is being abused by the current town council.
“They have no appreciation of why it’s there in the first place,” he said.
For his part, councilman Nelson Guy said he was surprised by the motion made for the resolution.
“Have you heard of the movie ‘Blindside’?” he said. “It was a last moment thing. I didn’t know anything until it happened.”
Guy said he would like to see the resolution repealed.
“Dr. Boyette has done a lot for the town. If he just picked up everything and left town, a lot of people would be glad, but even more would be sad,” he said.
Councilman Steve Carawan declined to comment on the resolution.
“Sounds like (the Daily News) has already made up its mind,” he said