In the twilight hours of October 21, members of Hope Mills Citizens for Change (HMCC) a new Political Action Committee (PAC) distributed signs at intersections and on major roadways. The PAC officially formed within the last few weeks but they’ve wasted no time establishing their agenda: Vote NO to 4-year terms.
The 4-year referendum was suggested by Commissioner Mike Mitchell during a February meeting. The referendum is on the November ballot, but the 4-year terms wouldn’t begin until the 2019 election. The mayor and top two vote-getters would all serve 4-year terms, while the remaining three seats wouldn’t convert to 4-year terms until the 2021 election.
The board initially voted to instruct town attorney Dan Hartzog to research how they might make the change. At his suggestion they voted to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum to change the Town Charter to reflect 4-year staggered terms. A public hearing was held in June, at which the public was unanimously against the change. The board voted to move forward anyway.
The referendum comes at the end of a very tumultuous year for the Hope Mills board. In early spring Commissioner Larson suggested pay raises for the Commissioners and mayor. In March they voted to approve the raises which ranged from 48% to 84%. They also awarded themselves stipends for cell phone and travel expenses as well as vision, dental and life insurance. The salary increase and stipend alone will cost the town more than $15,000 a year.
The board has struggled to agree on a design for the second phase of the lake. An initial design was approved nearly a year ago, but the board has requested multiple changes and can’t agree on a single element of the plan. A design update was presented to the board in late August, but after questioning the changes they’d previously made, they asked for new plans to be drawn.
The board unquestionably disappointed the public when they rejected two offers made by Lone Survivor Foundation (LSF) to purchase several acres near lake bed #2 to build a retreat for veterans. The public became aware of the initial offer when Commissioner Mitchell posted on his official Facebook page about the board’s July 23rd meeting. Mitchell accused the mayor of losing control of the audience. The video shows a different story. Commissioners Mitchell, Larson and Bellflowers were belligerent to the mayor and reluctant to hear from the public.
A public hearing was scheduled, then quickly cancelled. Commissioner Mitchell used social media to insist the land was never for sale and claimed his constituents opposed selling the land. But the board sent a message to LSF in early June requesting a formal offer. And to date, only three citizens have publicly opposed the sale.
Commissioner Larson produced a 20-year-old public works survey indicating lake bed #2 might be a potential water reservoir in the future. She received a letter from Public Works Commission on June 19th indicating the survey was outdated and PWC had no plans to pursue that area for a water reservoir…now or ever. Despite this information, she’s deceived the public for four months, insisting the site is desperately needed as a water source.
On October 8th the board very quietly voted to reject LSF’s final offer.
It’s possible the board felt their actions would go unchecked. But HMCFC has been watching and has declared war. Founding member Grilley Mitchell is furious with the board’s behavior. Like many of the HMCFC members, he worries that 4-year terms wouldn’t lend continuity to the board, but would allow for greater corruption…
“We need a board that will allow for transparency, allow the town manager and staff to do the job they were hired to do without being afraid. Someone that can make tough decisions, ask tough questions and accept tough hard answers without taking it personal. We want a board that will respect each other no matter what side of the issue they are on. WE NEED VISION NOT DIVISION.”
He’s not alone. HMCFC began with four members and has grown to nearly 30. As members prepared to distribute signs, there were frantic phone calls from local citizens who have heard about the group and wanted signs for their lawns.
If you’d like more information about HMCFC please visit their Facebook page.