Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
October 1st, the Board of Commissioners will hold a Special Meeting to hear the results of the long-awaited Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan created by Rachel Cotter of the McAdams Group.
The Board met in August to reschedule a Public Hearing, at which the public would be invited to give their opinion on the much debated Lone Survivor Foundation’s (LSF) offer to purchase several acres in what is referred to as Lake Bed #2. While the majority of the board was enthusiastically supportive of the partnership in the days following the offer, several members changed their mind and have since rigidly refused to consider it.
During the August 1st Special Meeting the board indicated they wanted to see the results of the Parks and Rec. plan prior to hearing from the public. Later it was revealed that Lake Bed #2 was not part of the land McAdams was assessing and that Commissioners Mitchell and Larson contacted Rachel Cotter during the last days of July and insisted she add the property to the contract.
The Board’s decision to cancel the public hearing until after they received the plan was questionable. During the January 25th board meeting, Finance Director Drew Holland reminded the board the plan was simply a concept plan necessary to apply for grants. Once they receive the plan they have to prioritize projects, determine costs, seek funding and then consider bids. Receiving this plan is the first step towards development, but the funding process could take decades to complete. Holland also told the board there was no existing funds to complete any of the projects suggested in the plan.
What the plan IS NOT…
The plan is not a blueprint. It doesn’t indicate what facilities should go on each piece of land the municipality owns. In fact, there’s very little reference to land. The study indicates how many total acres of developed and undeveloped park land we own and states we’re below the national average. The only reference to Lake bed #2 is on page 22. It’s simply listed under “Additional parkland”.
What the plan IS…
The master plan is the culmination of months of surveys. McAdams Group sent questionnaires to every household and church in Hope Mills with questions about recreation sites and usage. They questioned our Parks and Rec. staff about finances and practices to determine how we compare to national averages. The plan indicates our Parks and Rec. revenue has decreased 25% over a five-year period, while our expenditures have increased 19% over that same time. It also indicated the majority of those surveyed want a swimming pool for recreation and working out, nature trails, indoor fitness options and a splash pad for kids.
McAdams Group listed “Relevant Planning Documents” on Page 30 of the plan. In addition to the Southwest Cumberland County Land Use Plan and the Cumberland County 2030 Growth Vision Plan it includes several smaller town plans…and the outdated PWC surveys submitted by Commissioner Larson.
Based on the emails we received in a public records request, we know Commissioner Larson submitted the plans to Rachel Cotter nearly two weeks after Mick Nolan, Chief Operations Officer at PWC, confirmed the surveys were outdated and not relevant. Commissioner Larson didn’t seek approval from the board before contacting PWC for clarification about the surveys, or before submitting them to Rachel Cotter.
Several questions remain…
Was cancelling the Public Hearing to wait for the Parks and Rec. study simply a stall tactic?
The survey doesn’t offer any guidance on how Lake bed #2 should be used, but based on Drew Holland’s remarks, they knew it wouldn’t.
Now that they have the survey, will the board follow through and reschedule the Public Hearing???
Should the board censure Commissioners Larson and Mitchell for consistently operating outside the scope of their authority?
Larson, who has struggled all year in her role as commissioner, has shown a flagrant disregard for rules. During the March 27th meeting, Larson complained that she was chastised for contacting a staff member directly and not using the town manager as an intermediary. Then she complained about her fellow board members challenging her opinions.
In her attempt to control the narrative regarding lake bed #2, she’s manipulated the board and bent the rules to accommodate her own agenda. In June she provided copies of two PWC surveys to the board, then she contacted PWC for clarification about the surveys without the board’s knowledge or consent. She withheld Mick Nolan’s email from the board members and the public, while she continued to post the surveys. This allowed her to perpetuate the idea that Lake Bed #2 was essential to future water needs, when in fact, it was not. Larson and Mitchell, without consent of the board, contacted Rachel Cotter directly in an effort to coerce her to add lake bed #2 to the survey. Procedure dictates they contact Town Manager Melissa Adams with any request and Adams decides whether or not the information needs to be forwarded to outside agencies. And Larson contacted Cotter without permission a second time, to send her both the 1999 study and the 2014 Jordan Lake water application. Did the outdated studies, which have become a permanent part of the survey, affect the outcome of the $100,000 study the town paid for?
And finally, if the board follows through and holds a public hearing, will it matter?
The board held a public hearing on June 18th to receive input from citizens regarding their thoughts on the 4-year term referendum. Three citizens, all well-known influencers in the community, addressed the board and spoke against the idea. Minutes later the board disregarded the public comments and voted unanimously to move forward with the referendum.
I did not include links to each and every piece of evidence, again it’s because they’ve all been shared here numerous times. Click here to see all of the emails referenced and click here to read minutes from the board’s previous meetings.