A tradition within the New Bern Fire Department and its ancestors since 1879, threatened by a row over former mayor Lee Bettis, is now no longer a habit, a tradition, or a whim — it’s city law.
Aldermen passed a resolution on Tuesday making it official city policy to add the name of the mayor in office when a fire truck is authorized for purchase. The policy gives a mayor the option to decline the honor.
The resolution passed on a vote of 5-2, with Mayor Dana Outlaw and Alderman Jeffrey Odham voting against the measure.
The controversy arose when the previous Board of Aldermen ordered Lee Bettis’ name removed from a fire truck that was bought when he was in office. Bettis later served time in jail for driving recklessly under the influence of a prescription drug while his stepchildren were in the car.
At the time, members of the board thought having the name on a fire truck of a mayor who served time in jail was inappropriate.
Bettis’ name was restored to the fire truck last month after new board members, led by Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel, voted as a bloc, joined by Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey.
There was no discussion among aldermen during Tuesday’s agenda item. But earlier in the meeting, during the public comment and petitions portion of the meeting, two members of the public spoke on behalf of keeping the tradition intact.
They included Buddy Wetherington, past volunteer fire chief and member of the Button Volunteer Fire Department (like his father), thanked aldermen who voted to maintain the longtime tradition.
The department has many traditions, he said, and asked the board to keep the naming tradition intact.
Richard Blythe, who joined the fire department in 1977 and was chief of volunteers for three terms, said the naming has been a tradition for years and years. “I just wish the board would see kind enough to leave it that way,” he said.