Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
Late Friday night I was sent a text message with a link. The link was to the minutes of the October 2, 2007 Cumberland County Planing and Inspection Board meeting. Of interest, is item A on the agenda…
P07-47: REZONING OF TWO PORTIONS OF A 20.26 ACRE TRACT, CONSISTING
OF 9.43 ACRES AND 4.20 ACRES FROM M2 TO R7.5 OR TO A MORE RESTRICTIVE
ZONING DISTRICT, LOCATED SOUTH OF CHURCH STREET, EAST OF FREEDOM
LANE, SUBMITTED BY JOSEPH H. GILLIS SR, OWNED BY GILLIS AND GILLIS INC. (link)
The case was initially heard by the County Commissioners on August 20, but was deferred back to the planning staff because citizens raised concerns. The Planning Board heard it on September 18th, allowing citizens of Hope Mills to speak on the issue, then again on October 2 to allow more citizens to address their concerns.
One of the citizens who spoke on October 2, 2007, was Lisa Waring. These are excerpts from her speech…
-There are two major concerns…One, the impact that it would have on the future ability of Hope Mills to restore its Lake #2. First and foremost, Lake #2 has the potential to serve as a water reservoir for our entire region.
-It is my understanding that our own proposed 2030 vision plan for Cumberland County, currently in draft form, encourages the restoration of Lake #1 and Lake #2 as future sources of clean fresh water for our region. Making a decision that would prohibit, impede or deny this County’s collective vision for the year 2030 by allowing any development that would cause Lake #2 not to be fully restored makes absolutely no sense.
-The restoration of Lake #2 is not a dream, it is a vision for the future of Hope Mills. With the help of people like Representative Brisson and others our community can work together on a mission to restore Lake #2 and to share the gifts she will surely bring with our community and with our region for years to come. I ask you to consider the impact the recommendations will have not only for now, but for our future. Thank you very much.
During the October 2 meeting, Lisa Waring did not mention her family owns three different parcels of land adjacent to the dry lake bed: Lot #5065, lot #4550 and lot #4566. You can clearly see in this photo, that lot #5065 would be water front property if the lake was restored.
During the 2017 election, Lisa Waring acted as Commissioner Larson’s campaign manager and promoted her on social media. In July, Larson posted pictures of her friend Lisa Waring, on her official Commissioner’s page. In June she posted photos of herself on the Waring’s private boat as Lisa and her husband gave her a tour of the lake. In February, Up & Coming Weekly published an article detailing the relationship between Larson and Waring, and questioned their agenda for the town.
The October 2 Minutes are evidence that Waring has been lobbying for a reservoir since 2007. The relationship between Waring and Commissioner Larson is well documented. But does a conflict of interest exist?
North Carolina general Statute § 160A-388 reads…
‘A member of any board exercising quasi-judicial functions pursuant to this Article shall not participate in or vote on any quasi-judicial matter in a manner that would violate affected persons’ constitutional rights to an impartial decision maker. Impermissible violations of due process include, but are not limited to, a member having a fixed opinion prior to hearing the matter that is not susceptible to change, undisclosed ex parte communications, a close familial, business, or other associational relationship with an affected person, or a financial interest in the outcome of the matter. If an objection is raised to a member’s participation and that member does not recuse himself or herself, the remaining members shall by majority vote rule on the objection.’
Commissioner Larson told Bill Speight ‘no means no’ and added the Board had addressed the issue three times and wouldn’t address it again. That sounds like a fixed opinion.
Ex parte communication occurs when a party with a vested interest in the outcome of a case has one-sided communication with a decision maker. And ‘associational relationship’ is defined as…
“…the potential personal interest may not even involve the particular board member. At times it is the board member’s association with an interested party that raises a potential problem. A close relative or business partner’s involvement in a matter coming before the board is not uncommon, especially in small towns.” -David Owens UNC School of Government
Larson herself has fueled the conflict fires. During the June 4th meeting she was adamantly in favor of selling land to Lone Survivor Foundation. But shortly thereafter, she acquired the 1999 and 2014 PWC surveys indicating the land could be used for a future reservoir. It’s been confirmed that Larson personally sent those surveys to the other Board members. She also posted them on her social media accounts. But when Mick Nolan, of PWC, emailed her on July 18th to confirm her surveys were outdated and that PWC had no intention of building a reservoir, now or in the future, she neglected to forward that information to the rest of the Board. In fact, the very next week Larson ignored Mick Nolan’s letter and instead read the 2014 letter in open session, siting it as a reason to not sell. And when multiple publications debunked the reservoir argument, Larson switched tactics and began FOIA requesting emails between Mayor Jackie Warner and both the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor’s Coalition. Ironically, it would seem Commissioner Larson is looking for evidence Mayor Warner had a conflict of interest when she brought the LSF proposal to the Board.
At the very least, we have the perception of a conflict of interest and Commissioner Larson should announce her recusal. If she fails to do so, the remaining Board members can vote to disallow her participation. Which would be less embarrassing than the alternative….
“If a party to the hearing believes there is a potential for inappropriate participation, it is permissible for the party to query the board for potential bias, and any objection to participation should be raised at the time of the hearing rather than initially on appeal.” -David Owens UNC School of Government
In short, any representative for Lone Survivor Foundation can query the entire Board for information about a Conflict of Interest. This would be done publicly and to the detriment of the Board’s integrity.
I encourage Commissioner Larson to recuse herself from any votes regarding Lone Survivor Foundation. I also encourage Commissioners Bellflowers, Edwards, Legge and Mitchell to be ready in the event Commissioner Larson refuses to recuse herself. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Hope Mills.
Have concerns about these issues? Contact the Board and let them know!