Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
Commissioner Mike Mitchell posted a very-one sided and misleading diatribe about the Commissioner’s meeting that was held July 23rd. Commissioner Mitchell accused Teddy Warner, Director of Business Development for the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation of soliciting the Lone Survivor Foundation (LSF) to purchase property in Hope Mills. He further claimed the Board was blindsided by the presentation and that it became apparent that Teddy Warner, Mayor Jackie Warner, Town manager Melissa Adams and Town Attorney Dan Hertzog had prior knowledge of the proposal and had authorized soil testing and floodplain analysis.
The July 23rd meeting is a matter of public record and the entire meeting was videotaped and is available to watch on their YouTube channel. If you watch the video…and I encourage you to do so…you will see that Commissioner Mitchell didn’t simply misrepresent the situation, he lied.
This is the truth your elected official’s deprived you of…
Four of the five Commissioners were against selling this land to LSF.
Mike Mitchell voted against the partnership and spoke against it. He referenced McAdams Group, the company hired to do the comprehensive Parks and Recreation (PR) study. Their initial assessment indicated the town doesn’t have enough viable land for recreational purposes and should actually purchase more.
Pat Edwards voted in favor of the partnership.
Jerry Legge was against the partnership but did not vote because he was absent from the June 18th closed session meeting. Legge indicated the land was too valuable to the community to sell to this organization and that he’d be willing to consider any other property.
Meg Larson voted against the partnership. She cited her responsibility to protect the assets of Hope Mills and referenced an outdated PWC survey.
Jessie Bellflowers was against the partnership and cited the way in which the info was presented, the time at which it was presented, the lack of relevant info at the time of the vote, a 1999 study by PWC, and the 2030 Southwest Cumberland County Land Use Plan which calls for that area to be developed as P&R.
The Lone Survivor Foundation
‘Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor, the 2007 #1 New York Times best-selling book, tells the harrowing, emotionally raw account and motivational story of his survival and the deaths of his comrades-in-arms in Operation Redwing, a mission to gather intelligence on Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. Marcus’ NEVER QUIT attitude was key to his survival and his recovery at home. After surviving his operations in Afghanistan, Marcus returned home to his ranch in Texas, the center of his post-combat recovery and restoration. On the ranch, Marcus had time to recover, to think, and to feel the love and support of close friends and family as he healed his wounds. Based upon first hand experiences of what is needed to provide holistic treatment beyond standard government programs, while honoring his lost comrades from Operation Redwing, Marcus established the Lone Survivor Foundation in 2010.”
Lone Survivor Foundation is here to help America’s wounded service members and their families adjust to the effects of their experiences and help them transition into what may be looked at as their ‘new normal’ – providing an understanding and acceptance of who they are as a person, a family, and a community. LSF provides support to service members/veterans and families from all military branches who are challenged with injuries such as:
- Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)
- Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)
- Chronic Pain
- Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
- Care Partner Stress
- Compound Trauma from Military and First Responder service
Last year LSF conducted 38 retreats at their Texas location.They realized they needed to expand. More than 30% of the soldiers they treated came from North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia so it made sense to open a facility in North Carolina. Terry Jung, the Executive Director of LSF has been in NC for a year and has scouted more than 50 different locations. In addition to the right property, he was looking for the ‘right community’, one that would embrace their mission.
Robert Van Geons is the President and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC). He was asked by LSF to find suitable properties for their newest facility. He states this clearly when he addresses the Board. Because they had issues with previously suggested properties, which seemed perfect but then presented logistical issues, they began with soil testing and floodplain analysis. This is why Melissa Adams was aware of the project…in her official capacity as Town Manager she allowed them to access the land they were interested in, to conduct the tests. Allowing those tests does NOT commit the town to the sale of the land. Only the Board of Commissioners can vote to approve the sale. Furthermore, whether the land is sold to LSF or not, the town retains the results of those tests which can be used in grant proposals if they choose to develop the land. The test were simply a precursor to a proposal…if the land had refused to perk or was subject to flooding it would have been deemed unsuitable and they could move onto another piece of land, without having wasted a lot of the Board’s time.
On June 4th the Board suspended their regular meeting to hold a closed session during which LSF and Teddy Warner made their presentation. The Board was unanimously in favor of the project and Team LSF left with reassurances that the Board was excited about the project and willing to receive initial proposals for the sale or lease of the land.
Teddy Warner, who is the Mayor’s son, is also the Director of Business Development for FCEDC. He is a salaried employee and does NOT receive a commission if they match a business with a property. Because he is from Hope Mills and because he is the Mayor’s son, Robert Van Geons suggested it would be nice if Teddy brought the proposal to the town. Much has been made of the fact that Teddy approached Mayor Warner about the proposal from LSF. It’s been suggested in subtle and not so subtle ways that they colluded in some way. They did not. Commissioner Mitchell even went so far as to ask Mr. Van Geons if he felt it was a conflict of interest, in that Teddy Warner is related to Mayor Warner. Mr. Van Geons assured the Board there was no conflict of interest. As the Mayor, Jackie Warner is approached by individuals and organizations daily. She is a figurehead and the face of this town and it makes sense that any organization interested in partnering with Hope Mills would contact her. But it also makes sense that Teddy Warner would call his mother…the Mayor.
Mayor Warner knew of the intended proposal for one whole week before the Board did. She knew they were interested in purchasing a piece of land owned by the town and that they wanted to present their proposal to the entire Board. That’s it. She didn’t broker a deal, set a price, or make any promises other than providing them the opportunity to speak with the Board.
During the same June 4th meeting Melissa introduced a woman who presented her own proposal to the Board. She initially approached Kenny Bullock, the Director of Parks and Recreation, about installing a paddle boat business on the lake near Big T’s. While there are notable differences, there are very real similarities: The Board was unaware of the content of the proposal prior to receiving the proposal. The interested party approached a town employee, a department head, in lieu of approaching the members of the Board, and asked the employee to facilitate a meeting with the Board. It’s worth noting, none of the Commissioners balked at this. No one implied that Melissa Adams and Kenny Bullock had colluded with this woman, no one suggested relevant information was withheld preventing them from making informed decisions, and no one suggested the Board was blindsided by the proposal. In fact, the Commissioners were attentive, engaged and receptive to her proposal.
Sometime between June 4 and the June 18th meeting things fell apart. Commissioner Larson suddenly had the results of two surveys conducted by PWC and NCDEQ in 1999 and 2014. They were surveys…not plans. The surveys included Lake Bed #2, the land which LSF is interested in acquiring, as one of four potential multi-purpose reservoirs.
Commissioner Larson sent emails to representatives from PWC to inquire about the surveys. Mick Noland, Chief Operations Officer Water Resource Division at Fayetteville Public Works Commission responded July 18th, stating that more recent surveys indicate the Cape Fear River will have a sufficient water supply well into 2050 and PWC has NO plans to utilize Lake Bed #2 or build a reservoir.
During the July 23rd meeting Mayor Warner addressed the issue early on, reiterating that PWC had abandoned any plans of using the land for a reservoir. In addition to the reservoir they’d have to build a filtration station and piping system to move the water. The entire project was deemed cost prohibitive. Additionally, during Hurricane Matthew the area suffered extensive flooding, which meant the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t issue permits for the construction of a reservoir.
Despite all of this information, Commissioner Larson still sited the 19-year-old survey during the July 23rd meeting and insisted the lake bed was an essential part of PWC’s future water plans. Commissioner Bellflowers questioned the timing of the email, inferring it was a lucky coincidence they received an email from PWC freeing the lake bed for sale just when they had received an offer. It wasn’t a coincidence, it was a response to Commissioner Larson’s query.
Commissioner Bellflowers also balked at the partnership. While he made it clear that he supported the organization…in a 20 minute speech, he also made it clear that he took issue with how the information came to the Board. In one singular statement, he expressed his regret in having received the presentation during a closed session which excluded the public (he would prefer more transparency) but also that the Board was the last to know when so many people in the community were already aware of it.
Not only are the ideas mutually exclusive, but they show a complete lack of understanding of NC law. Any discussion of land acquisition has to be discussed in a closed session. Soon after these statements it became evident none of the Commissioners have even a basic working knowledge of procedure because we learned they’d voted 3-1 during a closed session conducted June 18th, against allowing LSF to purchase the land. Commissioners are NOT allowed to vote in closed session and after a heated discussion Commissioner Larson announced that the June 18th vote would henceforth be referred to as a ‘consensus’…when in actuality it was an illegal vote.
Bellflowers went on to say the info presented to the Board was presented ‘ass backwards’ and that much of the information required to make an informed decision was withheld. It was less of a speech and more a rambling exposition full of innuendo and passive/aggressive accusations. If you’re even moderately familiar with this Board you can draw your own conclusions. Unfortunately, Terry Jung is not familiar with them or their ridiculous tactics and interpreted Bellflowers’ meandering speech as an accusation against Lone Survivor Foundation. Jung returned to the podium to apologize to the Board, explain their process in choosing Hope Mills, and amazingly enough, to reiterate just how much this land means to his organization and how committed they are to working with us.
Much of the ‘unfortunate and embarrassing’ part of the meeting happened after the Commissioners finished their statements. Bellflowers and Larson consistently spoke out of turn, interrupting the Mayor and Bellflowers bellowed at her that he’d told the truth and said he was offended by her interruption.
After more bickering and public shouting it was agreed to let the public address the Board, and it’s fortunate for us they did so as most of the relevant information came from the speakers. I’m not going to summarize every single speech but hit on some of the highlights…
Kyle Yarborough reminded the Board that life is more valuable than any golf course or recreational area. He’s a veteran who has attended the LSF retreats and discussed at length the debilitating effects PTSD had on his professional and personal life.
Lindsay Knapp is a veteran and victim’s advocate. She explained in greater detail that veterans who attend LSF retreats aren’t simply sent home without resources. The organization partners with hundreds advocates and therapists in every single community across the nation. Lindsay addressed Bellflowers directly when she explained that this network of advocates was aware LSF was interested in partnering with Hope Mills and the ripple of excitement that moved through the community was why so many people were aware…not because there was some vast conspiracy.
Tim Byrom, the president of the LSF Board, reiterated much of what Tim Jung said in that they were dedicated to this location and willing to work with the Board to reach an agreement that was advantageous for everyone. He made it clear they were willing to lease the land, lease part of the land and purchase part, or add provisional clauses into the contract allowing Hope Mills to buy back the land if they chose to. He also mentioned the organization’s surprise when they didn’t receive a counter offer, but a dismissal. He specifically mentioned Commissioners pulling him aside after the June 4th meeting to express their gratitude in being chosen and their willingness to work with LSF.
Robert Van Geons was perhaps the most compelling speaker. He clarified for the Board the timeline of events and the reasons for asking Teddy Warner to make the presentation. He also clarified the procedure for approaching the municipality and explained that policy had been followed perfectly in this case.
If Robert was the most compelling speaker, then Quentin Evans was the most honest. He began by telling the Board they’re ‘butt hurt’ because the project was developed without their input. He’s not wrong.
I want to point out that several speakers were not at the meeting to speak about LSF, but were so compelled by the outrageous behavior of the Board they spoke about it anyway…and in favor of it. Several citizens took the podium to sanction the Board members for their wretched behavior and one even used social media to express her distaste for how they behaved. Only one person spoke against the project…Rod MacLean. He made references to the notorious Walmart Situation and implied the Board was being manipulated again.
It would take far too long to detail the Walmart Situation, so I’ll summarize. A local developer met privately with three Commissioners, the town manager and the town attorney in an effort to secure their votes on several issues which would ultimately allow a few families to rezone their properties from residential to commercial. Once the properties were rezoned, they were sold collectively to Walmart and the Neighborhood Marketplace was built soon after. During the two years Rod MacLean and his political group fought the issue, they lobbied extensively to have the town manager and attorney dismissed for a laundry list of offenses. When both men eventually left their positions it wasn’t viewed as a tragic loss as Mr. MacLean implied, but more of a reason to celebrate. His speech was antagonistic and full of the same innuendos several members of the Board alluded to.
Despite Commissioner Legge’s assertion that Lake Bed #2 is ‘valuable’…it’s not. With the exception of PWC’s inclusion of the lake bed in their outdated survey, the area was abandoned and neglected for more than 50 years. Today it’s only value is potential, in that LSF wants it. Several Commissioners expressed an interest in waiting until September when the McAdams Group releases the findings of their survey. But that survey will only be suggestions based on market research. McAdams Group explored the available land and polled the citizens of Hope Mills to determine what recreational resources we want. Once they’ve compiled the info they’ll present the Board with a list of potential uses for each available resource. The Board then decides which projects are actually feasible, and it stands to reason the Golf Course, which is more accessible, would be a higher priority than an abandoned lake bed. But even then there is no development potential for years because there is no funding for large development. Comparable land resources in neighboring cities have cost between 16 and 22 million dollars to develop for recreational use. Hope Mills does NOT have that kind of disposable cash. The 2030 Southwest Cumberland County Land Use Plan was also cited, it calls for lake bed #2 to be developed as PR by 2030. Again, there isn’t sufficient funding for the town to develop that land.
“It is both unfortunate and embarrassing that the Town Board meeting this past Monday…..spiraled out of control and turned into a state of mayhem that included bullying, berating, loud bursts of high fives, clapping, etc.” Mike Mitchell
It was NOT the public who were an issue. When Commissioners bellow at the Mayor, when they are belligerent and rudely defiant, when the public, who is meant to follow their lead, are instead forced to set an example, it reflects on each and every citizen of this town. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and embarrassing, it was a travesty that grown men and women who are supposed to represent the citizenry, instead used this public forum to hurl insults at one another with snide comments and half-veiled threats. They behaved like petulant children hellbent on getting their way and punishing the Mayor for some perceived slight. And that…is the biggest tragedy of all.
We’ve been given a tremendous opportunity, one we most certainly don’t deserve. An internationally renowned company wants to partner with our small and very flawed town. That partnership gives us not only a chance to show true benevolence to a very deserved community, but to bring us some much needed good publicity. We will not only lose this opportunity, we will sully what’s left of our reputation to a point that no other company will ever consider us.
We’ve been plagued with scandal for more than eight years. Tonzie Collins and the amotion hearing to remove him were daily fodder for the local press, one family’s ill-conceived float made us a laughing-stock with news organizations on two continents, and most recently Commissioner Larson’s bad behavior and unfortunate alliances were documented in a local paper.
Commissioners hold positions of honor, they are chosen public servants. But each of them walked into that Board meeting harboring private agendas and nursing bruised egos. They are, at best unfit for public office and at worst, criminal in their dereliction of duty. Whatever issues they have…and it’s evident the Commissioners have many…squash them privately. Our Board is not their proverbial shrink couch wherein they work out their frustrations, and their votes are most definitely not weapons to be given and withheld depending on who they’re feuding with.
There was no conflict of interest, there was no grand conspiracy, the land in question is worthless to us and priceless to the veterans who will benefit from LSF’s programs, PWC doesn’t want the land, and we can’t afford to develop it. Each and every one of their concerns have been addressed and debunked in several different ways. Now it’s their responsibility to do their job.
Recognize the opportunity, apply a little creative thinking and learn to pivot with the circumstances. That land was designated as recreational. Is it so hard to imagine a Lone Survivor Foundation retreat as recreational land? I realize a huge sticking point will be that it’s not available for all of the citizens, but either are a lot of the resources the town invests in…I’m not allowed to play youth soccer, i can’t utilize the Sunshine House and my skateboarding days are long over. But those are still recreational assets in Hope Mills. Each of them targets a very specific demographic, and each of them is considered a valuable part of the PR program. Veterans make up a large part of our community, and while not all of them will need the resources provided by LSF, the goodwill we extend to that community will be felt and appreciated by all of them.
Veteran statistics are alarming.
In North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, the three states LSF wants to target with this facility, there are 1.5 million veterans.
20% (540,000) of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from depression/PTSD
19% (260,000) suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
PTSD is a well-known disorder in today’s society but it wasn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980. Veterans prior to that time suffered its debilitating effects but were not diagnosed or treated effectively. In addition to the soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are veterans from the Korean War and the Vietnam War who struggle daily and who haven’t been diagnosed or treated.
50% of veterans don’t seek treatment or diagnosis for PTSD
Only 50% of the veterans who do seek help will receive even minimally effective treatment
39% of veterans suffering from PTSD abuse alcohol and 3% abuse prescription pills as a means of coping
It’s cowardly to sit quietly in a Board meeting, then post lies on social media. The potential issues which Mike Mitchell addressed on his Facebook pages were diffused in the meeting. The Commissioner is banking on the public’s unwillingness to watch a 3 and a 1/2 hour video…if they watched it they’d know the man lied. I also take issue with his continued advertising from his Commissioner’s seat. As a Commissioner he serves this community, during meetings he’s supposed to be focused on the issues at hand and yet he continues to announce that he’s a CPA who’s run a successful business in Hope Mills for 30 years! I’m going to start billing him every time he uses the Board for free advertising! And it’s disastrously ironic that he’s disrupting meetings and interrupting his fellow Board members to mention ‘team building’. He’s done more to divide the Board than anyone on there.
This meeting was very reminiscent of 2013…it was like watching Tonzie Collins throw one of his infamous tantrums. Unfortunately, Bellflowers is not nearly as entertaining as Tonzie was. Less…is more. It’s not necessary to bellow at the crowd and it’s not necessary to repeat everything three times. Likewise, if you simply had the guts to say what you were thinking, instead of skirting the issue with innuendos and false starts…you could get your point across in far less time.
I know some of you will read this and immediately retreat to the infamous Chatter where your friends will flatter you and commiserate while bashing me relentlessly. I welcome it. But you, with your fragile ego, need to realize the Chatter is a vacuum. While you’ve focused on ensuring nothing and no one unwanted gets in, you’ve forgotten that nothing gets out. Once you exit that virtual room, you’re on your own. You’re judged for your actions by an entire town, and not just the 30-40 people who participate in your chats. Their opinion won’t insulate you from the criticism, from the bad publicity, from 2-page articles exposing your hidden truths, from reality.
I am going to every meeting. I’m going to monitor your social media. I’m going to share with the voting public…every time you misbehave, every time you fail to do your job, every blunder and misstep will be fodder.
This…is your only warning.
Do what you were elected to do…
Have concerns about these issues? Contact the Board to let them know!