The November 5 Board meeting began with several proclamations regarding Veteran’s Day. I planned to post both of them here as a tribute to our veterans, but they weren’t included in the agenda.
During Public Comments Grilley Mitchell, co-founder of the Hope Mills Citizens for Change (HMCFC) Political Action Committee (PAC), addressed the board. He reminded them that Bob Gorman, a beloved Commissioner who passed away late last year, had warned the board to operate with greater transparency and some of our current board members actually ran on the promise of having fewer closed sessions. These promises have been broken.
Grilley also stressed that closed sessions are strictly allowed to discuss personnel matters and the buying and selling of municipal land. The board members are not allowed to discuss any other board member while in closed session. All conversation regarding the board, by the board, must be conducted in open session.
This is particularly relevant after the October 22 meeting when Mayor Warner left a closed session and went home because the board members created a hostile environment. This was confirmed when the board returned to their seats and Commissioner Legge announced that Mayor Warner left because they were discussing her son, Teddy Warner who works for the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC), and their suspicion that he had somehow colluded with the mayor to bring Lone Survivor’s offer to the board. It’s illegal to have that discussion in a closed session. Legge didn’t specify which commissioner broached the topic.
Elizabeth Cooper, another co-founder of HMCFC also addressed the board. She expressed her displeasure with Commissioner Larson for putting her proposed ordinance on the agenda 2 weeks after it was denied. Cooper said the ordinance and the actions of Commissioner Larson were disrespectful to the board and the staff and asked ‘what kind of person does that?’
Cooper also addressed the mixed messages coming from the board in regards to the parks and recreational development. She said it was irresponsible to spend $90,000 on a comprehensive study, which is based in large part on in-put from the citizens, and then consider relinquishing control of our parks and recreation to Fayetteville. Cooper also suggested the board was ignoring the citizens who elected them and pushing their own agendas.
Before relinquishing control to Commissioner Larson, Mayor Warner spoke at length about Larson’s proposed ordinance. She reminded the board they’d been in favor of the ‘prevailing side’ rule when the ‘Walmart issue’ was being discussed and that technically only a member who voted against the ordinance should be allowed to bring it back for consideration. Then she reminded them she was also elected by the people to serve the people. The ordinance dictates the board can’t hear a proposal to buy, sale or lease municipal land unless the five commissioners are present. It essentially excludes the mayor. Warner said the rule was inappropriate and created an opportunity for the commissioners to avoid their responsibility to the citizens…by simply refusing to attend a meeting they can prevent a presentation from being heard and thus manipulate the situation.
Town Attorney Dan Hartzog clarified, the prevailing side rule only pertains to the night the ordinance is introduced and any board member can ask to have a vote considered at future meetings.
Commissioner Larson reiterated the purpose of the proposal was to have all five commissioners present for the initial proposal. She made a motion to pass the ordinance and it passed 3/2 with Commissioners Bellflowers and Edwards voting against it.
The board discussed and approved their schedule of regular meetings for 2019. This is also relevant now because the board voted two weeks ago to cancel the November 19th meeting because Commissioner Legge will be on vacation. Legge knew about the November meetings for a full year and scheduled a trip anyway.
The board discussed a committee formed by the FCEDC. Simply put, they want to partner with local municipalities to meet quarterly and discuss economic development. Because of the accusations Commissioners Larson and Mitchell have levied against Mayor Warner, she recused herself from consideration.
Commissioner Bellflowers, who has become quite efficient at defusing awkward situations and suggesting compromise, volunteered to serve on the committee. Then Commissioner Mitchell volunteered. Commissioner Legge made a motion to put Mitchell on the committee ‘since the Mayor won’t do it.’ Warner never said she didn’t want to do it.
The entire conversation was awkward. Commissioners Larson and Mitchell have made no effort to hide their suspicions about Mayor Warner, but when Mayor Warner addressed it openly, they acted surprised and offended. The conversation about the committee limped along with no one wanting to commit to anything or object to anything. Sadly, after appointing Commissioner Mitchell to the committee, they had to appoint a staff member, and the limping continued. Eventually Jane Starling was appointed and Chancer McLaughlin was named an alternate.
Commissioner Edwards did point out that she preferred Commissioner Bellflowers on the committee since he was the only board member who attended the ethics training recently conducted by the county.
Mayor Warner asked the newly appointed committee members to send her regards and explain why she won’t be there. It was a preview of her new stance.
For the most part Mayor Warner has refused to acknowledge the bad behavior of the board members, with this board and previous boards. She chose instead to play the long game, knowing they’d be voted off the board. Perhaps it’s because this board has repeatedly attacked her family, but Mayor Warner addressed their behavior tonight. She said board members and have accused her of paying for soil samples conducted prior to LSF’s offer to buy municipal land. The soil samples were paid for by FCEDC. Mayor Warner said she did not pay for the samples or donate to the cause.
A member of the board has been requesting copies of emails, receipts and credit card statements from FCEDC for weeks. Warner demanded the board cease and desist all requests to FCEDC for information and said the most recent request to them was made as recently as October 31st. Mayor Warner reminded the board that FCEDC has brought thousands of jobs to Cumberland County and played an integral role in the economic development of our community and she demanded they leave her son’s boss alone.
Hartzog addressed the board with a statement from FCEDC founder Robert Van Geons. Invoices indicate FCEDC paid for 100% of the costs and were approved by Van Geons personally.
Warner went on to accuse board members of using our town attorney to request information from FCEDC regarding this investigation.
It should be noted, the board did not sanction any investigation into Mayor Warner. Commissioners are acting independently of the board to investigate this matter. We don’t know if they’re using the town attorney to facilitate their investigation, but I submitted a comprehensive public information request last week. Hopefully the results of that will shed some light on this situation.
Also worth noting, is that Mayor Warner never mentioned a specific commissioner in her statement, but Commissioner Larson objected and declared the statement ‘unfair’.
Warner said she was out-of-order and Larson shouted ‘point of order’.
‘Point of order’ is similar to an attorney yelling ‘objection’ during a trial. And like in a trial, the Commissioner has to clarify why they think the rules have been broken. Commissioner Larson said Mayor Warner knew in March about the proposal from LSF. This has been a sticking point for some members of the board since the July 23rd meeting. And it’s been addressed repeatedly on this site and in other publications.
When she knew about the proposal isn’t relevant. She’s stated for the record that she was aware of LSF before the board was. She’s also stated she only knew they wanted to make a proposal….she did not know what that proposal was about. Mayor Warner followed long-standing protocol when she passed what she knew to the town manager. The manager receives many similar requests. She and her staff vet the proposals for validity and then determine whether or not to schedule a presentation with the board. Because this proposal involved selling municipal land, it took place in a closed session. And I want to reiterate that no member of the board was opposed to the proposal or the sell during the early days of June when they initially heard it.
Unfortunately for Commissioner Larson, the Mayor serves as the judge in this scenario and has the authority to determine whether the point of order is valid. It was not.
Commissioner Larson addressed the next item on the agenda…the golf course. She suggested we open the golf course as a supplemental walking trail on April 30. She said she was aware it needed minor repairs but with six months of lead time they could be completed and the trails could be open from dusk until dawn daily. She also wants the town to provide benches and trash cans.
Town Manager Melissa Adams said she contacted the owner of the parking lot and he’s adamantly opposed to opening it to the public. Instead, the town would have to identify possible entry points to NCDOT who would have to approve them.
Commissioner Bellflowers said the idea was a good one, but that it was premature. The golf course needs to be assessed for safety and without a viable parking lot people would attempt to park along Golfview Road.
Commissioner Edwards opposed the idea, saying the town has a history of starting projects and not finishing them. Currently they’re working to develop some of the historical properties and Phase II of the lake plan. None are funded at this point and the board is still waiting on the next phase of the McAdams Group survey.
Mayor Warner reminded them DOT has plans to widen Golfview Road and modifying the golf course now could adversely affect whatever plans the McAdams Group will suggest for development. They voted 4/1 to open the golf course in April.
During the recap of committee meetings Commissioner Larson discussed the proposal from the Swampdogs. She said the Parks and Rec. Committee loved the idea overall but are hesitant to commit until they’re able to see how the new Fayetteville Woodpeckers franchise affects the Swampdogs. Larson didn’t mention that Commissioner Mitchel showed up at the meeting and addressed the board.
The Mayor discussed the Mayor’s Coalition meeting. There was a great deal of conversation about parks and rec. from the outlaying areas of Cumberland County. Those municipalities, which fall under the Fayetteville P&R umbrella, struggle to get funding and deal with a lot of paper work to requisition funds. The mayors from those municipalities all indicated they get very excited if there’s any available funding for their projects but realize there will be a considerable wait while the money trickles down.
Finally, the conversation turned to the closed session scheduled for the end of the meeting. Mayor Warner formally requested the meetings be audio taped as they were previously. Surprisingly there was no push-back from the Commissioners. Warner clarified the conversation in a closed session had to stay on topic and she would not tolerate intimidation or bullying. Ironically, Commissioner Mitchell interrupted the Mayor to make a motion to record the meetings. With the board in agreement they disappeared into the back of the building for approximately 30 minutes. When they returned they voted to seal the minutes, then instructed the town manager to find an attorney who specializes in land acquisition so they could accept a piece of donated land.