CHAPEL HILL — A Carrboro alderwoman hopes five Orange County officials’ arrests at the General Assembly this week encourages other local government leaders to take a stand.
“I would love for other elected officials across the state to be inspired to speak out about how business is being run in Raleigh and about some of the bills that have been put forward,” Alderwoman Michelle Johnson said Tuesday.
Johnson, fellow Aldermen Damon Seils and Sammy Slade, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, and Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell were among the 151 people arrested at the largest “Moral Monday” protest at the N.C. General Assembly to date.
“We were there under our constitutional right to assemble,” Seils said Tuesday. “We don’t believe we were lawfully arrested.” The elected officials were not being disruptive, carrying signs, clapping or singing as they stood in the Legislative Building.
Bell, who missed a Chapel Hill Town Council budget meeting Monday night, could not be reached for comment.
“Was just released from jail,” she wrote on Facebook about midnight Monday. “Okay my NC folks, who is next? It’s for education, healthcare, the environment ... it’s about the future of our state!”
On his Facebook page, Chilton wrote that the group “sought to apply to (House) Speaker Tillis for a redress of our grievances about curtailments of our voting rights, reductions in public education, the assault on women’s right to choose, the undermining of Jordan Lake water quality, the decision not to expand Medicaid, the reduction in unemployment benefits and several other issues of critical concern to the people of North Carolina.”
The “Moral Monday” protests, which began more than a month ago, are organized by the North Carolina NAACP. The Rev. William Barber, president of the group, said the NAACP has constitutional law experts working on individual cases, but everyone has been arrested “on their own free will,” and there are “no legal fees at this time, as no one has been to court yet (for civil disobedience), and no one has been proven guilty.”
“I think it’s tremendous that elected officials would see the need to stand together against these immoral, unconstitutional attacks on citizens’ rights,” Barber continued. “Before you’re a politician, you are a citizen.”
The five Orange County leaders are not the first elected officials to be arrested at the protests. Durham Public Schools Board of Education member Leigh Bordley was arrested at a protest in May, Barber said.
Senate Bill 515, repealing cleanup rules for Jordan Lake, has been controversial locally. The lake is a source of drinking water for Cary, and Chapel Hill and Carrboro have allocations to use water from Jordan Lake in the future if needed.
“We’ve been working for the past four years to comply with rules that would improve Jordan Lake’s water quality,” said Seils. “The General Assembly just going in and undermining these rules puts us in a bad light.”