Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
On November 6 the town of Hope Mills will vote on a referendum which could extend the board’s terms to 4 years. In an effort to better understand what this board has, or hasn’t accomplished, I audited the last 10 months of meetings. I encourage you to read them for yourself, but I’ll be posting some highlights over the next few weeks.
I’m not providing links to every piece of supporting evidence because so much of this has been covered before. You can find all of that evidence here.
On January 8, the newly elected Board of Commissioners met with Robert Van Geons, the President and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC), and Teddy Warner, the Director of Business Development for FCEDC.
The two entities came together to conduct an economic development workshop. Van Geons presented an overview of the FCEDC’s mission, explaining that by cultivating jobs and increasing the non-residential tax-base they’re helping the county’s economic development.
For nearly two hours members of the board quizzed Warner and Van Geons. Commissioner Mike Mitchell asked Teddy Warner about incentives to lure business to Hope Mills and inquired about the types of contracts Van Geons has secured. Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers wanted to know what the town of Hope Mills and the board could do to facilitate a successful partnership. Van Geons suggested networking was a great starting point. Bellflowers also wanted to know which area the FCEDC was targeting for potential development. Van Geons told the board they were looking at any area zoned appropriately and with existing water and sewer lines.
On June 4th, Van Geons and Warner would meet with the Board of Commissioners a second time, to present Lone Survivor Foundation’s (LSF) offer to purchase a parcel of municipal land.
During the June presentation every member of the board, except for Commissioner Mitchell, was excited about the offer. In fact, the day after that meeting they instructed staff members to contact LSF and let them know they were ready to receive an official financial offer.
But when the board met again June 11th to discuss the offer, something had changed. Commissioner Larson had completely reversed her decision and was insisting the land LSF wanted, was necessary for a future water reservoir. She produced a 1999 Public Works Commission (PWC) study and a 2014 Jordan Lake water application (she still hasn’t publicly addressed where she found the outdated materials) identifying that piece of land as a potential water source if the Cape Fear River couldn’t be utilized.
A week later, without authorization from the board, Larson reached out to PWC for confirmation of the water study. Far from confirming it, Mick Nolan, Chief Operations Officer at PWC, emailed town staff members, Larson and Mayor Warner to let them know there were far more current studies that showed the reservoir was not needed and PWC had no plans to pursue it.
Commissioner Larson didn’t share this information with her fellow board members or the public, instead she spent another three months insisting the land was essential to PWC’s plans for a future water reservoir. In fact, during the July 23rd Board meeting Larson read form the Jordan Lake water application as part of her dismissal of LSF’s offer.
Commissioner Mitchell took a different approach to his refusal. Initially he used social media and the local paper to claim the land was never for sale. But Terry Jung, who was the Executive Director of LSF, has gone on record saying Mitchell told him during the June presentation, the board wouldn’t consider less than $165,000 for the land.
When Jung’s interview went public, Mitchell switched tactics and claimed the land was essential to the town’s parks and recreational development plan. He also claimed the land was being assessed by the McAdams Group as part of their comprehensive plan. But emails proved different. Both Commissioners Larson and Mitchell were desperately trying to reach Rachel Cotter at the McAdams Group during the last few days of August to have her add that parcel of land to their study…because it wasn’t initially included.
In late August both Mitchell and Larson appeared on a local AM radio show to discuss the situation. While most of their comments were inaccurate and proved wrong very quickly, one stood out…
Mitchell said, “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.
Mitchell was present during the economic development workshop with FCEDC in January. Mitchell directed questions specifically to Teddy Warner during that workshop. Which means Mitchell was aware of Warner’s position with FCEDC. Several members of the board have refuted Mitchell’s claim that anyone was taken aback by Warner’s presence and confirmed the board’s enthusiasm for the project. Board members have also confirmed Mitchell wanted $165,000 to sell the land to LSF.
Mitchell has a habit of underestimating his constituents. He also forgets how much of what he says and does is a matter of public record. It’s possibly he forgot the minutes from that January meeting were available to the public, and he didn’t realize that once the public knew about the workshop, it would be very difficult to believe he was ‘taken aback’ when he saw Teddy Warner standing there.
But, it’s easy to imagine this was a passive/aggressive attempt to slander the Warner family.
Which is why I encourage you to do your own research, then vote NO on November 6. The people of Hope Mills deserve public servants dedicated to improving our community. In a very short amount of time both Commissioners Larson and Mitchell have insulted the veteran community, LSF and FCEDC. It’s too early to know if they intend to run next year, but if they do…we don’t want them for 4 years.