W-S council may intervene in Kalvin Michael Smith case

by Jordan Green


The Winston-Salem City Council met for about an hour and 15 minutes in closed session on Monday to discuss the case of Kalvin Michael Smith, a local man who was convicted in the brutal beating of Jill Marker based on what many consider to be a deeply flawed police investigation that included crucial evidence that was overlooked, coached testimony by a key witness who has since recanted and an inappropriate interview with the brain-damaged victim.

Smith has been incarcerated for almost 15 years while steadfastly proclaiming his innocence. He has a habeas corpus appeal pending in federal court. The council is considering whether to intervene in the legal process in some manner.

The Rev. Kelly Carpenter, co-chair of the Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee, urged the council to file an amicus brief, also known as a friend-of-the-court brief stating that a new trial is in order.

“We ask you to convey to the court that you have no confidence in the investigation that resulted in the jury verdict in this case,” Carpenter said, “and that you believe the resulting injustice can only be remedied by a new trial.

“For those of you that understand the facts, do not let this get watered down by legalese,” he added.

The council emerged from closed session at about 9:45 p.m. Council took no action on the matter. Mayor Allen Joines said council plans to go into closed session again on Aug. 6 with City Attorney Angela Carmon “at which time we hope to move forward.

Southeast Ward Councilman James Taylor Jr. and East Ward Councilman Derwin Montgomery have expressed support for filing an amicus brief in Smith’s case. Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward, North Ward Councilwoman Denise D. Adams and South Ward Councilwoman Molly Leight have also indicated a strong interest in intervening in the case. Any action would require a five-vote majority on the nine-member council. The mayor votes only in the event of a deadlock.

In other action on Monday, council decided to send an item on front-yard parking back to the general government committee for further discussion. Southwest Ward Councilman Dan Besse, who’  chairs the committee, has expressed opposition to a ban on front-yard parking, along with Montgomery. But Adams, Leight and Taylor want council to take action against the practice, which they believe undermines the aesthetic quality of urban neighborhoods and drives down property values.

The proposal heard by council on Monday was a compromise measure that would provide for a petition process for specific areas rather than a blanket ban. The proposal that comes back to the full council is likely to remain a petition process, but the general government committee will probably tweak it to adjust percentage thresholds for the petition and frontyard parking sizes, and to determine whether tenants or absentee property owners would have voting rights, along with single-family homeowners.

The neighboring city of Greensboro implemented a citywide ban on frontyard parking in 2009. It requires that any parking area in front of a house must be physically defined and must not take up more than 40 percent of the area. The city council amended the ordinance providing an exception for short-term events such as barbecues and family reunions of up to three days.

“I think people are somewhat cognizant of [the ban],” Greensboro Zoning Administrator Mike Kirkman told YES! Weekly in March. “We definitely see spikes when new students come in…. We have to reeducate people. Folks are fairly compliant. We still get complaints.”

Kirkman said the city has two code compliance officer that are responsible for enforcing the front-yard parking ban, along with other zoning compliance responsibilities. In a city of about 270,000, enforcing the ban can be challenging partly because the ordinance requires documentation of three consecutive days of violations before any enforcement action can take place.

“I want my neighborhood back,” said Adams, the North Ward councilwoman who lives near the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. “Let’s have a win-win. We know we’re not going to get everything we want. But we can call come together for the good of all.”

Taylor, who grew up in the Southeast Ward neighborhood of Bellview, said he has watched his neighborhood deteriorate over the years, in part, because of front-yard parking.

“I will not stand idly by and watch my community decline,” he said. “If this isn’t the answer, someone please tell me what is.”

Sentiments among council members on the matter are not monolithic.

“It brings up the question of what government is able to do and what they’re not able to do,” said Montgomery, the East Ward councilman. “I said in committee that I may park my car on my lawn in protest.”

Robert Vorsteg, a board member of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance who lives near Wake Forest University, said the alliance supports the initiative to allow neighborhoods to petition for a ban on front-yard parking, but that a 55-percent petition response would be more appropriate than the draft proposal of 70 percent.

Richard Miller, president of the property management division of the Winston-Salem Regional Association of Realtors, said he favors an 80-percent threshold to trigger a petition process.

“I don’t think a few people should buffalo the rest,” Miller said.

Wayne Davis also expressed opposition to the initiative.

“What is the alternative to not parking in your driveway?” he asked. “The alternative to that is parking on the street. And when you do park on the street, then you’re really creating a hazard. Number one, getting out of your car. You can drive down my street even though it’s a 35-mile-an-hour zone, they’  come down there just like it’s a cutthrough. And when you’re getting out of your car and it’s raining, it can be really hazardous.”