CORRECTIONS (8/17): An earlier version of this article spelled activist Arnita Miles’ last name as “Myles.” The correction has since been made. TCB regrets the error.
On Monday afternoon, members of the Winston-Salem NAACP and the Minister’s Conference and Vicinity sat down with Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines to talk about the city’s recent decision to hire Pat Pate as the next city manager.
The two organizations advocated for current Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney for the role and made the argument that she was snubbed for the role despite being a strong candidate.
Toney, who is a Black woman, has worked with the city since 2016 and has more than 25 years of experience in local government between her work with the Winston-Salem Police Department, Forsyth County and the city. While Pate worked for the city between 1985-87 and more than 25 years in other Triad cities such as High Point and Greensboro, he’s worked in Manassas, Va. for the past decade. Pate starts his new job with the city in November.
In the city’s entire history, the role has belonged to men — white men specifically. Pate, who is white, will continue Winston-Salem’s hiring trend.
During the hiring process, the names of the finalists were kept secret until the official announcement to avoid risking their current jobs, according to city officials. But this lack of community engagement didn’t sit well with local leaders from the local NAACP and Winston-Salem Ministers’ Conference and Vicinity, who requested a meeting with Joines to get a better understanding of what the city manager selection process was like. On Monday they sat down in a closed meeting at Union Baptist Church and emerged with some answers.
“When we fight, we win. We say one step forward, not one step back,” NAACP President Al Jabbar said during a press conference following the meeting. “We are here for the community in any aspect.”
President of the Ministers’ Conference Dr. Keith Vereen said the meeting was “very fruitful” and that their “concerns were met.”
“Our ultimate goal was to find a common ground where we could continue to work with our city officials, our elected officials, in moving Winston-Salem forward as we have in the past,” he said.
Vereen said the group felt “encouraged” by the meeting.
But protesters outside the church felt differently.
Military veteran and community activist Arnita Miles told TCB that the process was “flawed.”
“It’s about the process in which the city of Winston-Salem appointed the new city manager,” Miles said, “It’s unjust.”
Miles added that Pate “did not have the opportunity to speak to the community,” adding that when the city selected its new police chief in January, candidates had the opportunity to “speak to the people” via public forum.
How was Pate selected?
The nationwide search for a new city manager was facilitated by the Chapel Hill based company Developmental Associates, LLC — managed by Stephen Straus and Heather Lee. While the city did invite the public to offer their thoughts on the qualifications that the new city manager should bring to the table, the May 8 public input session at city hall was advertised via a May 2 press release and May 5 social media posts. Five people spoke during the meeting.
The city also offered a survey for the public to “participate in the search” that was advertised via social media on May 9 and closed on May 15.
After months of deliberation, Winston-Salem’s city council members selected Pat Pate as the new city manager on July 14 in a 5-3 vote. The selection was made over two finalists of their own — Assistant City Managers Patrice Toney and Ben Rowe.
But in neighboring Greensboro, the city manager’s office has more diversity. Taiwo Jaiyeoba, who is Black, is the current city manager and the city hired its first female city manager Denise Turner Roth in 2012. High Point also has diverse city management. High Point hired its first Black and first female city manager Tasha Logan Ford in 2021. The racial demographics of Winston-Salem and High Point are relatively similar — the population of the former is 52.9 percent white and 33.5 percent Black and the latter is 49.5 percent white and 34.5 percent Black.
Greensboro’s Mayor Nancy Vaughan told TCB that while she didn’t want to comment on the city’s decision, she said, “I’m just glad we’re not in the middle of that controversy.”
Regarding the selection of Greensboro’s current city manager Jaiyeoba, who has been in the role since February 2022, Vaughan said that the city recognized their weaknesses and specifically sought out a leader who could help the city improve in areas where it was falling short.
“We picked him because of his strength in transportation and planning,” Vaughan said. “I think we made a good decision — those were two of our weaknesses and we were really looking for someone with those strengths, and that’s how Tai rose to the top.”
“It’s too bad that the new manager will come in under a cloud of controversy,” Vaughan said, adding, “These decisions are not easy.”
As for the city’s decision to go with an outside hire, Greensboro’s District 2 council member Dr. Goldie Wells said, “Sometimes they feel like they come in with fresh ideas and that they would be more open to moving the city forward.”
But Greensboro strives for diversity, Wells said. “See, if the council has not decided that that’s one of their priorities, then they can just stay in the same vein,” Wells noted, adding, “So you get what you’re looking for.”
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