In late September of 2013, the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners voted to remove Commissioner Tonzie Collins from his elected position by way of an amotion hearing. It was a politically charged decision and detractors were quick to point out the exorbitant expense ($33,000) and poor timing; Collins was already a registered candidate and the election was five weeks away. If the board didn’t vote him out of office, they’d have wasted a great deal of taxpayer’s money, and if he won re-election the process and the expense were wasted.
If we’d had a recall ordinance in place prior to the amotion hearing, it could have been used to remove Collins with far less expense. Immediately following the election, the people of Hope Mills waited patiently for the board to address the gap in accountability. But instead of addressing the issue, they ignored it, as if elected officials misbehaving were an anomaly.
Today, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Commissioners on this board have taken advantage of that gap…
Malfeasance – Intentional conduct that is wrongful or unlawful, especially by officials or public employees
Misfeasance – Conduct that is lawful but inappropriate
Nonfeasance – Failure to act where there was a duty to act
- Commissioner Larson shared outdated water surveys with board members, which swayed their decision to sell land to Lone Survivor Foundation.
- Commissioner Larson contacted staff at PWC to clarify the outdated surveys, without permission from the board.
- Commissioner Larson received an email from PWC staff informing her the surveys were irrelevant and withheld it from the public.
- Commissioners Mitchell and Larson pressured Rachel Cotter of McAdams Group to include the surveys in the $87,000 comprehensive parks and recreation survey commissioned by the town.
- Commissioners Larson and Mitchell wouldn’t let Rachel Cotter attend the Special Meeting scheduled to discuss a Public Hearing about Lone Survivor Foundation, then cancel the Public Hearing because they had no information from Rachel Cotter regarding the parks and recreation survey.
- Most of the Commissioners refused to attend ethics training provided by Cumberland County and the N.C. League of Municipalities.
- Commissioner Mitchell used social media to announce the McAdams Group told the board they needed to purchase more land for parks and recreation development. McAdams Group briefed the board in October there was enough land for a further 10 years of development and an additional 65 acres.
- Commissioner Legge accused citizens supporting Lone Survivor Foundation of illegally protesting to disrupt a town sponsored event.
- Commissioner Mitchell sent an email to town staff indicating he felt it was inappropriate for the staff members to support a candidate. C.G.S. 160A-169 clearly states employees can not be restricted from attending political meetings or advocating for candidates. Days later Commissioner Mitchell announced he’d attended the very meeting he discouraged the staff from attending.
- Commissioners Mitchell, Larson and Legge refused to let Mayor Warner attend a ceremony in Seattle to receive the National Rehabilitation Project of the Year Award from the Annual Association of State Dams Safety Officials. Warner offered to pay for her expenses and the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce lobbied the board to reconsider. They did not.
- Commissioners Larson and Mitchell began investigating Mayor Warner and her involvement with Lone Survivor Foundation’s offer to purchase municipal land. They submitted a public records request for more than 450 emails to prove she colluded to bring the offer to Hope Mills and that she paid for tests to further the process.
The board has never sanctioned an official investigation of Mayor Warner. It’s a violation of the laws governing closed sessions for the board to vote in closed session, or to discuss other board members. And they’ve never voted on an investigation in open session.
In fact, until the November 5th meeting, it was never discussed in open session. At that meeting, Mayor Warner admonished the commissioners for harassing staff at the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) with dozens of public record request and insisted they cease and desist. She accused them of using the town attorney to further their investigation by having him contact FCEDC with requests for emails, receipts and credit card statements. She also announced the most recent request from either a commissioner or the town attorney was October 31st.
Immediately following this, town attorney Dan Hartzog read an email he’d received from Robert Van Geons (President of FCEDC). In the email, Van Geons explains that he authorized three separate payments for soil sample tests conducted at lake bed #2. IF members of the board weren’t using the attorney to facilitate their investigation, why is Robert Van Geons emailing him to discuss and justify financial records and expenses regarding lake bed #2? Again, the board never authorized an investigation of any kind.
And while the board has a fiduciary responsibility to their citizens, they’ve cancelled four meetings since August. The latest meeting was cancelled to accommodate Commissioner Legge’s vacation. The schedule of meetings is set each November, so Commissioner Legge had a full year to reschedule this trip. However, during the meeting at which they voted to cancel, he bragged that he hadn’t missed a vacation in more than 20 years.
Because there is no form of oversight or consequence for the board’s bad behavior, it’s escalated. And we have every reason to believe 2019 will be a continuation of the same bad behavior we’ve seen in 2018. The people of Hope Mills are left with one lingering question: if the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners can’t govern themselves, how can we expect them to govern our town?