Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
The clip above is to the 20+ minute interview of Commissioners Meg Larson and Mike Mitchell by Goldy. To make things easier I’m going to use abbreviations for their names. I’m also going to give you time stamps so you can zero in on exact parts of the conversation.
0:48 – Goldy- Since Hope Mills pulled a $28,000 contract from a Fayetteville publication – the publication has just become – in my opinion -a mean, viscous, vindictive attack weapon
There was no point to this part of the interview…he went on for another 45 seconds about how much he hates this publication. The Hope Mills Board didn’t actually ‘pull the contract’. The contract was for a finite amount of time, and it ended with the publication having fulfilled its obligation. After some discussion, the Board chose not to renew the contract.
1:37 – Goldy – Was this land ever up for sale?
MM – No, it was never for sale – in fact we’ve been working on a comprehensive parks and recreation plan and we spent – at this point – over $100k for all of our properties to be looked at.
This isn’t accurate. During the June 4th meeting between the Board and Terry Jung, Mike Mitchell threw out a price point to sell the land. Terry announced this during our interview. This was confirmed by three members of the Board. Terry was surprised at the quote and said it was quite high, comparable to a price tag on 60+ acres, when LSF was only asking to buy 3-4 acres. And, this email, to a representative at FCEDC, clearly shows the Board was excited to move forward with the sale and wanted to coordinate the next steps and see official financial offers as of June 5th. This email and this one, prove the $100k study commissioned to McAdams Group never included Lake bed #2, it was added by Commissioners Larson and Mitchell sometime between July 30 and August 1.
Emails 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 show a conversation wherein Melissa Adams offered to have Rachel Cotter appear at the Special Meeting scheduled for August 1. The night of July 23rd the Board agreed to hold a Public Hearing on August 20, to hear public comments about LSF. Immediately after the meeting, Commissioners Larson and Mitchell insisted on a Special Meeting to discuss rescheduling the Public Hearing to a time after they’d received the Parks & Rec survey from Rachel Cotter. It would make sense to have Rachel Cotter at the August 1 Special Meeting to indicate when her report might be completed, so they could discuss when to reschedule the Public Hearing. But it’s evident in the emails that both Mitchell and Larson did not want Cotter there. One possible explanation could be they simply wanted to cancel the Public Hearing…and another could be they didn’t want the public to know that Lake bed #2 wasn’t included in her survey until they contacted her a full week later and demanded she include it.
2:45 – Goldy – How did LSF get the impression that this land was for sale? I’ve heard – in talking with some Commissioners and reading some things – that at some point the LSF thought this was a done deal.
ML – We have tried to get to the bottom of it – I spoke to the people at FCEDC, I’ve spoken to – I believe someone on the Fayetteville Observer – there was a list of property – one of the people from FCEDC told Jessie Bellflowers it was on a list. But when I called it wasn’t on a list. Then we went back to a meeting that we had in…January 8 Special meeting. They talked about collecting information for a list to provide to FCEDC. When we spoke to staff, we’ve spoken to the Mayor, and now there’s no list.
Again, this is not true. Again I reference the interview with Terry Jung, “Pat Edwards, Jessie Bellflowers and Meg Larson all expressed very positive thoughts to us. All three of them, when the meeting was over, said to either Tim or me directly ‘We’re gonna get this done.’ ” And again I refer to the email linked above, sent at the Board’s request. Terry Jung and members of the LSF team had every reason to think this was a done deal.
A confidential source close to the situation told me Mitchell was sending Freedom of Information Act requests to get information about this list. I’ve submitted my own FOIA requests but so far I have not received them. This same source indicated that FCEDC gave a presentation to the Mayor’s Coalition in early January. The FCEDC was looking for information about available lands for sale, which they could suggest to potential businesses. But…and this part has been omitted in all interviews…they were specifically targeting the Mayors of Godwin and Falcon….both of which are agricultural communities with large non-working farms. They asked these Mayors to communicate with farm owners who were interested in selling their privately owned land…not for municipally held land as is being suggested. FCEDC also gained access to the G.I.S. program, available to many municipalities and county offices. This allows them to quick reference any parcel of land and to search within specific parameters.
4:25 – Goldy – My understanding is that you were brought into a meeting on June 4 – I’ve seen some accounts where it says you were herded through a back hall of city hall into a meeting. Were you blindsided by this Mike?
MM – Yes sir – It was a closed session
Goldy – Why was it a closed session? A lot of people are asking that – why this was a closed session?
MM – I believe because it had to do with the tendering of property and economic development. We had no control over it – I guess the closed session was put on their (the agenda) by the Mayor
For the record, three members of this Board have confirmed the closed session on June 4th took place in the exact same way as all closed sessions, and in the exact same place. In fact, I spoke with Commissioner Edwards today, and once again she confirmed the closed session was like any regular closed session. She also said none of the Board members indicated they felt at all uncomfortable about the process. They hold closed sessions on a regular basis. Mitchell is correct in that the closed session was standard when discussing the buying or selling of land. Much has been made of the presentation taking place in a closed session, when in fact that’s standard operating procedure. Land acquisition and personnel issues are always discussed in a closed session.
4:56 – Goldy – One of the other things that I have read is that there may be some – let’s call them ‘hard feelings’ – between the Board and the Mayor – because her son Teddy Warner kinda facilitated this whole thing. The Board has some hurt feelings the Mayor apparently knew about this before the Board of Commissioners did.
MM – Yah, we just thought it might have been more appropriate if we had known ahead of time – when you go into a meeting and the Mayor’s son is there we were just kind of taken aback a little bit. There’s not a conflict of interest – we’ve asked about it – it just seemed inappropriate or uncomfortable for us. I just asked our Town Manager and our whole team that when there’s a request made to partner or to buy property – that’s not for sale especially – that they inform the Board of Commissioners. We are one team. If any organization asks you to keep something secret from your Board of Commissioners – that should be a red flag.
The bold portion of this statement is…inappropriate. Teddy Warner is the Director of Business Development for the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation. He has an impressive resume and works with a respected company. He also happens to be the Mayor’s son. We live in a small town…this Board is going to do business with relatives and friends…it’s inevitable.
And Mitchell’s implication that this presentation was purposely kept secret from the Board is ridiculous. Terry Jung addressed the allegations that the presentation wasn’t handled correctly in our interview, “I’m confident they’re wrong because we’ve dealt with two other cities in the Cumberland County area (Godwin & Fayetteville) and that’s exactly the procedure we have followed.”
It’s not just wrong, it’s incredibly insulting to the entire staff of FCEDC, the Hope Mills staff and to the Warner Family. In the August 23 issue of Up & Coming Weekly I wrote an article addressing the policies followed by this Board and staff. I consulted with several Board members, asking very pointed questions about policy. They all confirmed the procedure followed was well established. If any member of the staff or Board is approached with an offer or question, it’s relayed to Town Manager Melissa Adams. Adams and her staff are charged with vetting the issues thoroughly and presenting their findings to the Board.
To be clear, they’re approached often, and sometimes with ridiculous offers or questions. One citizen has repeatedly requested a wall be built to block The Wing Company (on Camden Rd) from the neighborhood behind it, to prevent customers from getting drunk and driving into his neighborhood. He fully expects the tax payers to fund this endeavor. At the August 20 meeting (56:02) we learned Commissioner Larson was approached by two people who want frontage roads installed up and down Main Street, making it easier for traffic to flow from one shopping center to another. This is in response to the newly installed medians. Larson relayed the request to Adams who put the issue on the agenda for a regular meeting…because it didn’t involve personnel or land acquisition.
In an ironic twist, Mitchell just admitted on social media, that he’s been approached multiple times since July 24, with offers from non-profit groups wanting to buy land. He also admitted that he did not relay the offers to the Town Manager or to the Board…as he’s insisted they do. He simply told the non-profit groups the land was not for sale.
6:02 – Goldy – Teddy Warner works for FCEDC so this not out of the blue and again no one’s accusing him of doing anything wrong – it’s just an interesting fact that the Mayor’s son is involved in this. What was different from the June 4th meeting – on July 23rd?
MM – Actually we had three meetings on the matter – we had the closed session on June 4th, we went back in closed session – because we had citizens waiting that was an hour and a half into closed session – the Mayor actually wanted us to make a decision right then and there. We told her we needed to do due diligence first please. And then June 11 – we also went into closed session on a special meeting and on June 18th we had our final closed session on the matter and decided not to move forward on the matter on consensus – I don’t think Jerry Legge was there – but it was 3-1 consensus not to move forward.
Mitchell didn’t technically answer the question. We know from the above mentioned email, the entire Board was excited to move forward as of June 5th. And we know that by June 11th, 4 of the 5 Commissioners had reversed their decisions. What we don’t know is…why?
At some point Larson became aware of the 1999 and 2014 PWC surveys and one Commissioner confirmed that Larson sent one of the surveys to the whole Board. And we know someone suggested, at least to Commissioner Bellflowers, that there may have been a conflict of interest and/or collusion. Bellflower’s has since admitted that isn’t true and regrets his actions during the July 23rd meeting. But Mitchell’s statement about the Mayor insisting they make a decision that night…doesn’t ring true. At the close of the meeting on June 4th, LSF hadn’t made an official offer yet…they were asked to do so in the email sent on June 5th. So there was nothing to make a decision on. And the Board can’t vote in closed session. So even if they’d received an official offer that night..they couldn’t have voted on it.
7:19 – Goldy – So do I have this right, you communicated to Town Manager Melissa Adams that it was a ‘no’ on this deal – the land wasn’t for sale and then was there some sort of lapse in communication between Melissa Adams and Teddy Warner and then Teddy Warner should have gone to LSF and said ‘ this land’s not for sale’?
ML – The manager said that she relayed the message to Teddy Warner. So what happened at that point? We don’t know if Teddy did not relay it to them or what happened – we just know that come the 23rd the Mayor wanted the presentation put on our agenda.
MM – That’s the hitch Goldy – the Board decided – and the majority – I don’t control the Board and Commissioner Larson doesn’t control the Board – we do things in a democratic process and the Board – and its majority decided not to move forward with the project and the Mayor insisted that it go on the July 23rd agenda and there were emails sent to veterans all over the state of North Carolina and throughout Fort Bragg – that incited a lot of feelings and emotions. We certainly support the LSF.
“The morning of June 18th, Jung received a call from the Hope Mills attorney, informing him the Board had rejected his offer and wasn’t interested in any further offers. He and other supporters of LSF had also been removed from the agenda of the next Board meeting.” From the interview with terry Jung.
Lone Survivor Foundation was already on the agenda for the June 18 meeting. Someone instructed the Town Manager to remove them, and instructed the Town Attorney to notify them. Mayor Warner asked them to be put on the July 23rd agenda, in much the same way Commissioner Larson requested frontage roads be put on an agenda. The same action was taken by both women, but with totally different reactions from the Board.
Emails 1, 2, 3, and 4 show the reactions of the Board to Mayor Warner adding the presentation to the July 23rd meeting. Before this meeting, no one outside of those closed sessions knew about the offer from LSF. It’s interesting that some of the Board members lobbied so hard to keep it out of the public meeting. It’s also interesting that the Board cancelled the Public Hearing, at which they’d hear public opinion on this issue, but have used the McAdams Group survey of public opinion as their excuse. Does public opinion only matter in certain instances…and on certain topics?
Mitchell and his supporters have referenced the veterans, or the ‘outsiders’, many times on social media and in interviews. They’ve expressed total disdain for the emotional reaction the non-Hope Mills veterans have had to the Board’s decision. During the August 20 meeting, while discussing plans for phase 2# of the lake project, Mitchell used the word ‘inclusive’ a dozen times. It was extremely important to him that our lake be inclusive to anyone in the country who was handicapped and wanted to launch a kayak from the boat dock. It’s the same situation, so why does that desire to be inclusive only extend to one lake bed?
11:09 – Goldy – Meg you’ve been a Commissioner since December so you’re the newbie on the Board of Commissioners – is this what you signed up for?
ML – Absolutely not – no. It’s very difficult to move forward when you have this type of hostility – especially among Board members.
MM – We’ve been getting a lot of push-back from outsiders that aren’t even involved in the LSF or the FCEDC…creating havoc. Duress and mental games is not the way to get your mission accomplished.
I’m going to refer you to the video of the July 23rd meeting. During the meeting Commissioner Bellflowers insists the presentation was brought to the Board ‘ass backwards’ then yells at the Mayor. At 1:31:28 Commissioner Larson is belligerent when the Mayor refuses to let her speak during public comments and speaks anyway, and Commissioner Mitchell follows up her outburst with one of his own when he ironically says…’working on team building up here’.
I’d like to point out two facts; Commissioners Larson, Mitchell and Bellflowers are the only Commissioners who have expressed hostility towards other Board members, during the meetings, on social media and during this radio interview. And interestingly, Commissioners Mitchell and Larson were the only two Board members who refused to attend the ethics training conducted August 9 by the League of Municipalities.
11:49 – Goldy – I think that everyone on the BOC thinks that the LSF is an outstanding organization – there is nobody that doesn’t think that this is a worthy organization and you would love to have them in your town – just not on this piece of land.
MM – Exactly – Jessie Bellflowers is actually working to find an alternate location for them as we speak.
There is no reason to find an alternate piece of land. Lake bed #2 was abandoned by the town for more than fifty years. It wasn’t even included in the initial parks and rec. survey being conducted by the McAdams Group. It stands to reason, if LSF hadn’t approached the town with an offer to purchase the lake bed, it would never have been included in the survey, it wouldn’t have been developed, and it may have been neglected for another 50 years. What would have happened if LSF had approached the town in November…well after McAdams had concluded their survey? Mitchell and Larson couldn’t have included it at that point and their argument would have been invalid. And LSF has expressed a willingness to lease the land or purchase it with a buy-back clause, ensuring Hope Mills would have it if needed at some point in the future…which means we’re not conflicting with the 2030 plan they quote so often.
13:41 – Goldy – Mike let me read something from an editorial that was published in a Fayetteville paper – again…NOT the Observer – and just give you a chance to comment on this…
“On July 26th Commissioner Mike Mitchell wrote the first of many confusing and misleading posts on his Facebook page. He accuses the Mayor and several staff members of colluding with Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) to facilitate the sale of Hope Mills property to Lone Survivor Foundation (LSF)….Commissioner Mitchell accused Teddy Warner, the Director of Business Development for FCEDC and the Mayor’s son, of soliciting LSF with the intention of selling them this piece of land, then conspiring with Jackie Warner, to facilitate the sale.”
Goldy – True? Not true?I saw something on your Facebook page that said fake news.
MM – Not true – anybody can read the statement I made – I never said anything about colluding.
Once again…no. Mitchell said “Lone Survivor Foundation, Inc” was approached by Teddy Warner (who is Director of Business Development for the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation/”FCEDC”) about “partnering” with Hope Mills for economic development.” Then he said ” It became apparent very quickly that our Mayor Jackie Warner, our Town Manager Melissa Adams, and our Town Attorney Dan Hartzog, Jr, had previous knowledge of this proposal and had even authorized soil testing, flood plain analysis, etc” You can see his comments for yourself here and here.
He did in fact accuse Teddy Warner of soliciting LSF with the intention of selling a piece of land. And he did accuse, by implication, that Mayor Warner had previous knowledge of the proposal and had authorized various things. To be clear, Mayor Warner did know about the plan, and she did follow procedure in that she immediately told the Town Manager who had her staff working to vet the situation…as is standard operating procedure. They’re supposed to have previous knowledge, and Mitchell is NOT supposed to be part of that process.
Goldy – From the editorial, “Freshman Commissioner Meg Larson seems to be struggling in her role as well. While Larson was initially excited to partner with LSF, her opinion seems to have been influenced at some point between the June 4th and June 18th meetings. She’s been agitated during Commissioner meetings and antagonistic towards staff members and the Mayor.” Your response to that?
ML – I don’t feel like I’ve been struggling – um – I’ve….I do my research – and um – I think uh – it’s been – there have been moments where it’s been very – heated between the – between the Board members – certainly with all of this going on – but….
No. She’s not struggling at all.
MM – We basically said – on the last Board meeting – I just asked all media if they would report some balanced reporting – ask both sides their opinions about things – they would have a better outlook on Hope Mills and be in a more positive manner – you know – you’re not gonna accomplish anything by printing all this negative news – has a lot of misleading facts – that aren’t facts at all. And the fact that we cancelled the contract with this publication about 3-4 weeks ago – it loses – that publication loses credibility when they make such negative comments when they’re ‘tooted’ as a positive magazine….There’s a whole blog dedicated to the destruction of Commissioner Larson and myself and there’s some politics played in there. It kinda loses credibility when we’ve cancelled the contract and then they come back – it’s almost retaliatory in nature.
Because this blog is the only blog discussing Hope Mills politics, I’m going to assume he’s accusing me of trying to destroy him and Commissioner Larson. That’s not only untrue…it’s slander. I’ve maintained a strict standard of providing tangible evidence to coincide with each article I post. The fact that Commissioner Mitchell has blocked me from commenting on his social media, and that he believes I’m trying to ‘destroy’ him…says more about him than it does me. He has a long tradition of blocking dissentingviews.
It’s also slander to accuse the other publication, Up & Coming Weekly, of posting negative news in retaliation. Once again, the contract wasn’t cancelled, it was completed. And the writers of that publications wrote on situations that were negative while the contract was active. It’s called ‘news’.
19:03 – Goldy – With all of these editorials being written in this publication about the LSF and the Hope Mills BOC – has anybody on the Board been interviewed for any one of these articles? Because I read them every week and I’m always looking to see – is there going to be a quote from the other side of this argument and so far I don’t believe I’ve seen one.
MM – Nothing from that publication – Fayetteville Observer has embraced us and I think I did one TV interview with Channel 11 – they presented both sides.
I won’t speak for editors at Up & Coming Weekly. I have not interviewed Mitchell or Larson. They’re both very active on social media and there’s been no need to reach out to them when they use Facebook to post their opinions and comments so freely. But since Mitchell so publicly extended the offer…I will be taking him up on it.
19:37 – Goldy – What is the next step here with LSF?
ML – So our – on the 18th when we had our meeting – we made the motion – was it the 18th? June 18th…yes. No, August 1st we made the motion that we were gonna wait for our comprehensive plan to come back and at that time we would decide – at that time if we wanted to proceed forward with having a hearing for…
Goldy – What info are you hoping to glean from this report?
ML – Well we wanna come back and they tell us what they wanna do with each one of the parks and all the property that’s in – that the town owns. So….
MM – Actually this past spring long before we knew about Lone Survivor I had a conversation with Rachel Cotter and she told me that we actually looked at lake bed 2 as possibly an exit point for kayaks, for picnicking, a place for walking trails, um – even prior to that before I became a Commissioner I was Chair of the Parks and rec Committee and we had lots of discussions about lake bed 2# – it’s actually been on my agenda as a Commissioner candidate since 2009. It’s nothing new for the people who are in the know with Hope Mills.
It’s possible the Commissioners are unclear as to exactly what they paid the McAdams Group to do, and when they’ll do it. The first stage of the survey will be presented sometime in October…maybe. We don’t actually have an update because those few members of the Board refused to let Rachel Cotter attend the Special Meeting and give a progress report. Stage one was an assessment of the available lands and a survey of the citizens of Hope Mills. It will let the Board know what amenities the people want and which ones are a priority to the people. Phase two is a cost analysis of the amenities the Board chooses to move forward with. And stage three will be a more detailed plan involving placing specific amenities on specific pieces of land.
Then…they begin to consider funding the projects and inevitably…grant proposals. The Board has been squabbling over ladders and diving platforms, part of Phase 2# of the Lake 1 project…for months. Phase 2 was actually already settled and voted on by the last Board. This Board has chosen to abandon those plans and start over. Nearly 9 months into their administration, they’ve yet to make a single decision.
Each of these phases can take months to complete, especially since this particular Board doesn’t agree on much. But we know for a fact phase one will not definitively tell them what amenities should be placed on lake bed 2. It could actually be years before the Board gets to that stage of planning, and it may not even be this Board that makes those decisions.
20:50 – Goldy – The last thing I wanna ask Meg is something I’ve also read in a number of different articles in this uh – this subject. They say that you’re using old PWC plans and maps to form your opinion and that newer PWC maps say ‘no – we don’t need this lake bed 2 to b a reservoir’ some of the things that you’ve put out there how do you respond to that?
ML – OK – so I serve on a air quality stakeholders committee…and Carolyn Hinson is the chair and we were speaking about – in general we were just talking about how water cools your air temperature and so she and I were talking about it – I said there was a 1999 study that the county, DEQ and Hope Mills did on lake 2# and she didn’t know where was a lake 2# so I said I’d send it to her ad then we did redceive email that was from Mr. Nolan that was from PWC – um – to carolyn saying that he’d spoken to the Mayor of Hope Mills at this time they’re not going to do a reservoir in – at lake bed 2# and blah blah blah blah. But I had run across a 2014 Jordan Lake water application where PWC – during their lawsuit with Cary – um – that they wanted to borrow water from Lake Jordan. So my point is – each one of these studies states that this is the only possible water reservoir that could possibly supply water for Cumberland County. Why would we take the chance of giving that up for future needs – which we see every day in the Fayetteville Observer?
The original email from Larson to Hinson doesn’t read like a gee-whiz conversation about water cooling air. Around this time, someone from Hope Mills called PWC to inquire about a training session for the elected. Hinson was concerned enough about Larson’s inquiry that she mentioned the email and who sent it. From there, it was sent to Mick Nolan who called Mayor Warner. Aware of the surveys, Warner asked about the viability of the reservoir. Nolan called her back after some research and confirmed there was no plan for a reservoir, because there was no need for a reservoir. On July 18th he sent an email to Warner, Larson and Hinson confirming there were more recent studies than what Larson was referring to, and PWC was not planning a reservoir and did not consider lake bed #2 a viable option. Despite this, Larson has pushed the reservoir idea for more than a month. In the radio interview she takes control of the situation by demanding, ‘why would we take the chance of giving that up for future needs?’ Perhaps, because the subject matter experts at PWC said you should. It’s also worth noting, Larson did not share Nolan’s email with the Board or the public. But she did send the outdated PWC surveys to McAdams Group for review…without the Board’s approval.
To the Commissioners –
Within this post are links to evidence proving that nothing you said on the radio was truthful or accurate. If you have tangible evidence to contradict any of this…I welcome it. I’ll retract any statement you can disprove and gladly share your evidence.
If not, then I suggest you reevaluate your position on the LSF proposal…but also your position on the Board. You’re meant to represent all of the people, all of the time. Not just some of the people, who agree with you.
Have concerns about these issues? Contact the Board and let them know!