Politics

Larson lashes out

December 17th the board met for a regular meeting.  One hour and five minutes into the meeting, Commissioner Larson deviates from protocol and launches a one-sided attack…against me.  Larson spent 15 minutes reading from various articles I’d written and posed questions to Adams.  Adams, who seemed to know what questions were going to be asked, rattled off denials for each question Larson lobbed at her. 

On December 19th and 20th Commissioner Larson sent emails to the publisher and owner of Up & Coming Weekly and to myself, demanding we print a retraction and that we remove the articles she referenced from this site.

Larson used her elected position as a venue to launch a one-sided attack on two private citizens without giving either an opportunity to speak.  And she did so, without consent from the board. 

This is an excerpt from the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners Code of Ethics which was included in the December 3rd agenda.

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I’m going to start by reminding Commissioner Larson that I do NOT serve at the pleasure of the board.  You…are an elected public servant.  If you have trouble remembering this, I’ll be happy to provide reminders.  If you have trouble conforming to this, I’ll be happy to accept your resignation.  Don’t send  demands.  I promise, the answer will be NO every single time. 

Larson  – “Town Manager Melissa Adams begin her manager’s report…she announces she’s already begun to negotiate with Cumberland County to take over our parks and recreation department.”  Then asks, ‘Are we in negotiations with Cumberland County to take over our parks and recreation department?

Adams – No we’re not and I don’t believe I said that in my manager’s report.  I said that I met with Amy cannon and Tracy Jackson to begin the due diligence process before they send a representative to a joint meeting with the board.

Larson omitted the second part of my statement…’This was an initial contact meeting, at which Adams let the county know the town is interested in relinquishing control of parks and recreation back to the county.’

Larson – Has anyone from this board suggested that they’re interested in the town relinquishing control of parks and recreation back to the county or are we just fact-finding?

Adams – My understanding is that we are fact-finding – due diligence um, we’re exploring avenues, we’re exploring partnerships with other entities um, so it’s just conversations that we’re having right now before they send a representative to come and meet with you all.

During the October 8 meeting the commissioners discussed their reactions to the McAdams Group’s initial results.  Larson  said “We have a good idea of what the people of Hope Mills want – how we’re going to pay for it is a whole other deal.  I’m still leaning towards Fayetteville/Cumberland County’s Parks and Recreation.” (42:43)

On October 22 the board, at Commissioner Mitchell’s request, discussed moving forward with either a bond referendum or relinquishing control of parks and recreation to Fayetteville/Cumberland County.  They agreed to let the finance and parks and recreation committees discuss it and bring a recommendation to the board.  Commissioner Larson added they’d need to consult with a ‘county person’ to let them know how to move forward.  Mitchell and Larson showed up at the Parks and Recreation Committee meeting to discuss the idea.  (1:10)

On October 30, Lisa Waring, a friend of Commissioner Larson and contributing writer for The Sandspur, published an op-ed praising the board for considering the idea of relinquishing control of parks and recreation, “It only makes sense to explore all possibilities to include rejoining with Fayetteville/Cumberland County Parks and Recreation program.”

My conclusion…is that they’re interested.

Larson – This really isn’t a question but I  think it would be a good idea if the board was able to maybe meet with some of the mayors and just hear what their experiences with parks and recreation – now that they’ve joined back in.  And see how they feel about that.

Mayor Warner responded to this, reiterating some of what she said in the Nov 5 meeting, “Spring Lake and Hope Mills are the two that are not part of Fayetteville. The rest of them are a part and most recently is when we have started having work taking place in those small communities.  Linden now has a park and they’ve been a part of this (Fayetteville/Cumberland County) for the entire time.  Their frustrations have been that it has taken a long time.  Only recently have they been starting to get funding – a lot of them requested special funding because of all the things that occurred in Fayetteville.

Larson – Has the town been told that we would forfeit control of any of our future development with parks and recreation?

Adams – No the county hasn’t told me anything other than what I stated in my manager’s report which is that they do not consider special events parks and recreation and we would have to continue those events ourselves.

This is interesting in that she clearly states…they haven’t told me anything other than what’s in my manager’s report.  Did they discuss control of future development?  I’m gonna say…no.

We really just covered this, but I’ll dumb it down for her.  The municipalities, whose recreation is controlled by Fayetteville/Cumberland County, do not control their development.  Mayor Warner addressed this on November 5th and again on December 17th, two minutes before Larson asked the question. 

We do not have money to develop land for recreational purposes.  In order to apply for grant money we need the comprehensive plan we’re paying McAdams Group to finish.  With grant money we can start developing land.  Whether we turn p&r over to the city or not, we’re still paying McAdams for the plan.  If we turn it over, we’ve wasted the $87,000 we paid for the plan.  Maybe the board plans to broker some kind of half & half deal where the city will control part of our p&r and we’ll control part.  The issue has been discussed a half-dozen times and that’s never been mentioned.  

In October Larson shared an article by her friend Lisa Waring and quoted her on social media, “It is important to consider the big picture when it comes to protecting our remaining properties designated for recreational opportunities for our community. These recreational areas might not all get developed as quickly as we would like, but we do have them and their potential to enhance the quality of life for all our citizens to include future generations is immeasurable.”

but we do have them…for now

I agree with Commissioner Larson in that I think it would b a fabulous idea for the mayors of these local municipalities to come share with our board, their struggles to develop their own land.  Maybe if she hears it a third time, she’ll understand.

Larson – has the town been given a projected cost estimate of $150,000 to complete the golf course?

Adams – No, we don’t have an estimate – um – we haven’t gotten to that point.

This is 100% true.  Neither the staff or Commissioner Larson bothered to get cost estimates before Larson made the motion to create the walking trail.  Commissioner Bellflowers said the vote was premature and suggested a feasibility study and Commissioner Edwards suggested they wait until they’ve completed some of the projects already started.  But they moved forward.  As of now, they still don’t know the costs.

I do.  I reached out to a contact at Fort Bragg to inquire about costs.  My contact has overseen more than 150 million dollars of construction and is considered a subject matter expert by the US Government.  Based on photos I took when I toured the golf course his estimate was $150,000.  That’s a conservative estimate based on a small parking area (10-12 vehicles) and assuming they don’t discover any major issues along the way.  Major issues would include broken sprinkler systems, sink holes, exposed utility cables, etc…  All of these conditions exist.

Larson – It was reported by McAdams Group that we have a 25% decrease in revenue in our p&r department and it is my understanding that p&r staff is in the process of determining which programs are thriving and which programs have been in decline – to revamp the programs to be more successful.

Adams – correct

This really isn’t about me, but it is interesting in that Adams addressed this issue October 8th when Commissioner Mitchell also mentioned the 25% decrease in revenue. 

Adams said, “I believe we had a grant for the Seniors with Cumberland County (Mid-Carolina Grant).  We lost about $12,000 a year.  We couldn’t meet their standards regarding meals and the kitchen area….that’s probably an explanation for the 25% loss.” (37:00)  Are we going to surrender the entire program to Fayetteville because we lost a $12k grant?

Larson – “Giving control of our parks and recreation has another side effect…because it would belong to the county, it would be open to the county.  Our lake, our walking trails, our youth sports, would all be rolled under the umbrella of Fayetteville assets and advertised as such.  Residents of Hope Mills would find themselves in a situation where they can’t enjoy the lake, because the parking lots are full of Fayetteville residents.  Your children may not be able to play sports here in our back yard because the teams are full of children from outlying communities.”

Larson quoted me, but she changed one sentence…I said residents COULD find themselves in that situation. 

Larson – Aren’t our parks and recreation programs – our parks and lakes already open to Fayetteville and County residents but to everyone?

Adams – That’s absolutely correct, they are

The point of my comment was if we’re under their umbrella, we’d also be advertised more broadly.  Their websites, their brochures and visitor’s center would all boast the lake and parks, whereas now…they do not.  Also remember Fayetteville just passed a 35 million dollar bond.  They’re building the stadium, a new senior’s center, new youth ball-fields and potentially a performing arts center.  It would be foolish to assume there won’t be a massive marketing campaign for the city, which would also  include the beautiful Hope Mills lake.

Larson – Is it fair to say this board rejected the previous plan because they felt the boardwalk was overbuilt for the area and not aesthetically pleasing and would it also be fair to say the elimination of the boardwalk would be a significant cost savings to the tax payers?

Adams – I believe that’s correct

Well, I know how important cost savings are to this board.  If they relinquish control of p&r to the city, they’ve wasted the $87,000 we paid for the McAdams Group study.  Would that have paid for the boardwalk?  They spent roughly $14,000 on additional site plans for phase II of the lake.  They voted this spring to delay replacing the decrepit phone system in Town Hall, but this week they spent $800 to repair it and voted to make it a priority next year.  $800 wouldn’t pay for the boardwalk but it probably would have paid for the stairway into the swimming area. 

Larson – Could you also explain why we went to the lake last week?

Adams – The purpose of that was to finalize the changes to extend ADA access from the kayak launch and to add a stairway into the central swim area.

Again, not sure how this was relevant to me.  I said they were asked to go to the lake to see something before they could move forward…and they did in fact go to the lake. 

Larson – Did anyone eagerly agree to pay as much as $50,000 on a turning lane.

Adams – I’m drawing a blank on that – I don’t remember that figure or anybody talking about that at the meeting.

One hour and 29 minutes into the video Commissioner Mitchell begins to speak about the golf course…

“We’re not talking about a huge investment, we found out from our finance director that we’ve got a million five (1.5 million dollars) for capital improvements, right?  At the last meeting…so certainly we can afford a $50,000 turn lane, or entrance-way.” 

This is especially interesting in that the board discussed driveways at the August 20 meeting.  Commissioner Legge asked if Mr. Cruz contacted DOT to ask about driveway permits.  Don Sisko replied, “We started looking at the process of the driveway permits and that was put on hold pending the outcome of the McAdams survey because you have to identify locations when you put driveway permits into the DOT (system) without having any idea what the layout of the golf course property is going to be.  We weren’t going to be able to do that.” (1:25:03)

Bellflowers said Don was correct and that he remembered that discussion. 

Mayor Warner said “I was going to suggest also that Golfview is on their list of projects to be widened so I think those cuts in the road would be appropriate when we know more about what’s going to be added to the golf course and also when DOT knows what they’re gonna be doing to that road.”

Warner also said she thought the DOT changes were imminent and Don Sisko confirmed they’re slated for 2020.  Then Commissioner Legge said “I agree with Mayor Warner – if they’re going to work on Golfview, an entrance to the golf course wouldn’t be a bad idea at that time.”

To recap, in August they didn’t even discuss a turn lane but didn’t want to pay for a driveway if they could get DOT to do it sometime in the future.  But in November, they were suddenly willing to pay $50,000 for the turn lane and a driveway and a parking lot.  And for the record, that’s Melissa Adams sitting on the left side of the screen while Mitchell is talking about spending $50,000 for a turn lane in the same meeting at which Larson made the motion to open the walking trail on the golf course. 

Larson – In fact isn’t town staff reaching out to DOT about not needing a turning lane due to the future widening of Golfview?

Adams  – That is correct…we are currently reaching out to NCDOT to inquire if there is a requirement for a turning lane.

That’s kind of  the same thing as doing a feasibility study and cost analysis prior to committing our tax money to a project…right?  I don’t claim to be an expert, but wouldn’t it make sense for people who run around spouting words like ‘due diligence’  and ‘fiduciary responsibility’ to know what’s required for a project…before you approve a project?

Larson – Isn’t town staff also reaching out to Cumberland County schools and to the county to possibly donate skills of their on-staff engineer to design a driveway and a parking lot at the golf course since this will be a public park and open to everyone?

Adams – That’s correct

The result of the McAdams Group survey was essentially 498 million (+/-) graphs and charts.  This will be relevant later.  And most of the charts contradict other charts and few of them have any information to add context.  BUT…four different charts indicate the people of Hope Mills really want an outdoor concert venue/amphitheater.  If Larson wanted a DIY project on the golf course, why not suggest a concert venue?  There’s a natural amphitheater near the tree line…someone could pay for the turn lane/driveway…maybe us…maybe DOT…we could install a wooden stage for acoustic performances, add some food trucks and port-o-potty’s and BAM…you’ve got a venue.  Later, as grant money allowed, we could upgrade it.  And unlike the walking trail, a concert venue is a source of income for the town.  It would pay for itself within a year.

Larson – Wasn’t the shooting at Ed herring park an isolated incident between two people who knew each other?

Adams – That’s correct

Larson – And wouldn’t it be an obvious conclusion that the municipal park would have more incidents occur due to the amount of people and the size of the park in comparison to Ed Herring park?

Thank you for making my point?  The golf course park is just as big as the municipal park so it too will have more incidents than Ed Herring Park.  But…Municipal park also has lights, and playgrounds and ball parks, and basketball courts, and it’s surrounded by industry and all of that is teeming with people.  The golf course is isolated and not lit.  So can we also assume it will have more incidents than municipal park???

Larson references my article – ‘The wooded areas, especially near the creek, have been used by the vagrant community for years.  And several years ago, an arsonist was using the wooded area around the golf course to move around unseen after starting fires on the golf course.  Our Commissioners are actively working to create the very situation women and girls are warned to avoid.’

Larson – After speaking with Chief Acciardo was he aware of an arsonist starting fires on the golf course and complaints about vagrants near the wooded area of the creek?

Adams – No.  Not to my knowledge.  There may have been 1-2 fires several years ago.

Larson – Was it declared an arsonist?

Adams – I don’t believe so and to the Chief’s knowledge there were not any complaints about vagrants being a problem

Larson – And he went back how many years?

Adams – he went back 24 months

Semantics…again.  Arsonist is defined as ‘a person who sets fires’  You can Google it.  Several years ago…and by several I meant more than 2…there was a young man setting fires in Hope Mills.  My daughters were still living at home then and I was driving my youngest to dinner…past the golf course…when we saw an orange glow coming from the back of the golf course.  We called 911 and waited for the fire department to arrive.  They asked us several questions, but we couldn’t even see the fire from the road, just the glow, and it was dark.  It didn’t take long to put the fire out and the fireman stood with us chatting.  He said it was the third call to the golf course in two days for a fire and there had been several more fires that weren’t on the golf course.  This past Tuesday I made some calls and found out the ‘arsonist’ was identified.  He was just a local troubled kid.  And the information about the vagrants came from a source in the HMPD.  I never said there were complaints called in about the vagrant community.  I said there were vagrants.  I also said the board was actively working to create the very situation women and girls are warned to avoid.  I stand by that statement 100%.  A walking trail in an unlit area, surrounded by woods, is a bad idea. 

Larson – Were walking trails not in the top four picks of the resident surveys?

Adams – That’s correct.

Not exactly.  Remember those graphs and charts I referenced?  Take a look at these 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.  That’s not even all of them, just the relevant ones.  If you want to read the McAdams Group Survey results for yourself click here.  Download the agenda package for October 1st and start scrolling.

I didn’t see a single chart or graph that listed a simple walking trail as a priority higher than no #6.   Chart 1# indicates it’s the 6th most important priority.  But it doesn’t specify additional walking trails are a priority.  As in, they wouldn’t want to lose the one we currently have, but don’t feel obligated to make more.

I’m actually surprised Commissioner Larson would quote the McAdams survey after she publicly condemned them and their results During the October 8th meeting, “I was less than overwhelmed by this study.  The bulk of the info had  a bunch of pie charts and graphs that you can Google….We could have set up our own white boards to determine that our community wanted pools, splash pads and walking trails.  So I was not impressed by it at all….I was less than overwhelmed”

Finally, Larson spent the last few minutes addressing the PWC surveys…

“I have never contacted PWC.  I did not provide the board with the 1999 survey on lake bed #2.  In fact that was provided to the board by town staff on June 12.  Our decision to not sell the property at lake #2 was made on June 18.  On July 13 i forwarded the 1999 study along with the 2014 Jordan water application to two members of the Air Quality Stakeholders Commission (AQSC).  I repeat, i did not contact PWC.  How there was communication between Mayor Warner and Mick Nolan over my AQSC email is a mystery.  But that letter was never addressed to me.  It was addressed to one of his employees that’s on the AQSC and that is what it is for.  It was not in relation to lake No #2 or LSF. ”

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Larson emailed the studies to Carolyn Justice-Hinson and Denise Bruce.  Carolyn Justice-Hinson is the Communications/Community Relations Officer at Fayetteville Public Works Commission (PWC).  Somehow the email made its way to Mick Nolan, Chief Operations Officer for Water Resources.  Nolan fired off an email to Carolyn Justice-Hinson AND Meg Larson on July 18.

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So when she said “But that letter was never addressed to me” that isn’t exactly true…since Nolan clearly says he’s copied Larson in the email.  And Larson claims she never contacted PWC…but she also said ” It was addressed to one of his employees that’s on the AQSC” which would indicate she knew Carolyn Justice-Hinson worked for PWC when she sent the studies to her. 

 

 

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This is an excerpt from the July 23rd agenda for the Hope Mills board.  It states that “members of PWC are present today”.  Those members were Mr. Trego and Commissioner Rogers.  They were there to speak about the Local Building Business Rally. 

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This…is an excerpt from the PWC Board of Commissioners minutes from their July 25th meeting.  While they were present to address the Local Building Business Rally, they heard our commissioners using the PWC surveys and the potential reservoir as a reason to NOT sell land to LSF.  This was nearly a week after larson received the email from Mick Nolan.  They felt compelled to address our board, then later felt it was necessary to address their board so they’d be aware of the ongoing issue.

Since August, two commissioners independently told me Larson sent the PWC surveys to them through email.  One was in a taped interview, and one was in a phone call.  I didn’t solicit the information, they volunteered it.  And to clarify, these were commissioners and not the mayor.  I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the information and as evidenced by this ridiculously long article, Commissioner Larson has either been incredibly mistaken about a great many issues, or incredibly untruthful.

The irony of this situation is that I was bored with the board.  I was tired of doing research, tired of copying and pasting links, but mostly I was tired of their drama.  The board is redundant, slow-moving, reactionary and unskilled.  I had quietly decided to cut back on the political commentary and focus on some new projects and offers.  Larson just guaranteed my continued involvement.

But the biggest take-a-way from this…is I’m living rent free in Commissioner Larson’s head.

Right this minute she’s scouring the site, choosing the next article to be offended by.  That works.  The two commissioners have been so quiet on social media that I’ve had very little to post about lately.  Now…I have plenty.

 

 

 

 

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