Community Politics

Pot, kettle…black!

During the Board of Commissioners meeting on July 23rd, Commissioner Larson accused Mayor Warner of having prior knowledge of Lone Survivor Foundation’s June 4th presentation.  Mayor Warner clarified she knew there would be a presentation, but not what the presentation was about.  Larson’s continued suspicion spawned a formal investigation.

It also spawned Ordinance 2018-9

“Whereas the Board of Commissioners of the town of Hope Mills believe that the consideration of the sale or long-term lease of real property owned by the town is an issue that requires input from all elected officials – now therefore be it ordained that the Board of Commissioners shall not discuss or consider the sale or long-term lease of any real property owned by the town of Hope Mills unless the full Board of Commissioners is present for discussion.  For purposes of this ordinance ‘long-term lease’ is defined as any lease longer than one year”

When Commissioner Larson introduced the ordinance October 22, it was framed as a safety measure.

Larson said, “I’ve asked this to be put on the agenda to emphasize the importance of protecting the town’s assets….basically because we all represent the people – it would just require all five of us voting board members to be present before we could address a proposal or any kind of offer to lease or buy municipal property.

Commissioner Bellflowers asked, “It has to be five board members for that to take place -if one board member was absent then you couldn’t entertain any kind of business brought before the board – is that what you’re saying?

And Larson responded, ‘Just the proposal – not the vote.”

“I don’t think we need an ordinance tying that into a requirement”  Warner

Mayor Warner reminded them the entire board was required to be present but Commissioner Larson interrupted to clarify the vote only requires the majority but the ordinance “requires all of us to hear the proposal.”

Larson wrote an ordinance making it more restrictive for the members of the board to simply hear a proposal about the sell or lease of municipal land, than the actual vote to sell or lease the land.  And while she says several times that ‘all five voting members’  have to be present, the ordinance itself actually says “the consideration of the sale or long-term lease of real property owned by the town is an issue that requires input from all elected officials” and ” the Board of Commissioners shall not discuss or consider the sale or long-term lease of any real property owned by the town of Hope Mills unless the full Board of Commissioners is present”  Mayor Warner is an elected official and a member of the board.

Commissioner Mitchell added, “Each of us represents different constituents.  To make decisions of such magnitude and say ‘your constituents don’t really matter but these four up here that represent these constituents does matter.”

Commissioner Mitchell actually represents all of the citizens in Hope Mills.  Not just the ones that voted for him

An ordinance requires a super majority on its first pass and this one failed to get the five votes.  Larson immediately announced her intention to put it on the November 5 agenda, at which point it only needed a simple majority.

On November 5th there was very little discussion.  Commissioner Larson repeated, “The purpose of the agenda (I assume she meant ordnance) was so that…all five members of the board were present at the time of the proposal.  It still only means the majority of the board votes whether to sell or lease the property.  (It) doesn’t mean they have to do it that night – it could be the next meeting or two months down the road.”  The ordinance passed with a 3/2 vote.  Commissioners Larson, Mitchell and Legge voted for it.

Do as I say, not as I do

Why is this relevant now?  Because Monday night, four members of the Board of Commissioners met with the Parks and Rec. Committee to hear a proposal from the YMCA.  Commissioners Larson, Mitchell, Legge and Bellflowers met at Parks and Recreation and spent an hour listening to representatives from the YMCA discuss a proposal to lease a portion of the golf course and build a new YMCA facility and aquatics center.  Commissioner Edwards and Mayor Warner are both out-of-town.

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The meeting was announced last week when town staff sent out a press release indicating a possible quorum.  There was in fact a quorum, which means technically the board members present could have voted on this issue.  It was also mentioned in an article in the Fayetteville observer on January 23rd.  And that was shared on Commissioner Larson’s social media page along with a quote from the article…

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Rick Houp, CEO of the Sandhills YMCA Association, and Alex Lewis, Executive  Director of the Hope Mills branch, addressed the Board of Commissioners and the committee.

Videos from this meeting are on my YouTube channel  LINK

In videos #1 and #2 Houp proposed forming a joint committee to address the results of the McAdams Group parks and recreation survey.  He suggested they combine their resources and “form a symbiotic relationship that would be beneficial to the families of Hope Mills”.  He tells the joint boards the YMCA is considered a leading expert in aquatics.  Sallie Bailey, the Chairman of the Parks and Rec. Committee, asked if they plan to also build a new facility and migrate all of their programs to that location.  Houp said they do.

In the 3rd video Bruce Armstrong, a member of the Parks and Rec. Committee, asked if the YMCA plans to use their own 20 acres of golf course property as well as municipal property.  This is important because they’ve now officially introduced the topic of selling or leasing municipal property.

Houp confirmed the YMCA is interested in some kind of partnership wherein they would lease the land long-term.  He also confirmed they were interested in frontage property so the facility and signage would be visible from Golfview Road.

In the 4th video they speak more about the terms of a possible lease and Houp says it could potentially be renewed after 20 years.

Let’s readdress Ordinance 2018-9

The ordinance is clear in that the consideration of the sale or long-term lease of  property owned by the town requires input from all elected officials.  And the Board of Commissioners can’t discuss or consider the sale or long-term lease of any property owned by the town of Hope Mills unless the full Board of Commissioners is present.

Commissioners Larson, Mitchell, Legge and Bellflowers were definitely at the this meeting, but there was not a full Board of Commissioners in that Pat Edwards and Jackie Warner were absent. And there was a great deal of discussion about the long-term leasing of municipal land.

My questions to you are…

  1.  Did these four commissioners violate ordinance 2018-9?  Less than three months after adopting it?
  2. If in fact they did violate their own ordinance, what are the consequences?
  3. The board simply suspected Mayor Warner had prior knowledge of a proposal, prior to this ordinance, and they sanctioned a full-scale investigation.  Will they now vote to expand that investigation to include this meeting?
  4. When do we say ‘enough!’ and start holding our elected officials accountable for their actions?  When do we demand they resign???

I called the North Carolina State Civil Magistrate to inquire about ordinances.  Whereas the federal government and the state pass laws, a municipality or a county pass ordinances.  ‘Ordinance’..is simply a law passed by a town.  And violating an ordinance in the state of North Carolina is a misdemeanor.  I decided to double-check and I called a neighbor who’s a Deputy for the Sheriff’s department.  She confirmed.

At the very least, I think the commissioners present at the meeting should recuse themselves from any votes regarding the YMCA.  Mayor Warner is not a voting member of the board, but these commissioners are.  She couldn’t have influenced the decision to sell land to LSF, but these members of the board can and will decide whether or not we partner with the YMCA.

If Mayor Warner violated this ordinance, we have every reason to believe the commissioners who wrote and voted for it less than three months ago would have called for immediate and severe consequences.  Should their consequences be any less?

Editor’s Note –

Not surprisingly, there’s been push back regarding this article.  So I want to clarify a few small points.  I never said it was a joint meeting.  The article in the Fayetteville Observer declared it a joint meeting….between the Parks and Rec. Committee and the YMCA executives.  Commissioner Larson regurgitated that information.  I simply said some members of the board met at parks and rec to hear the proposal.

Commissioner Bellflowers argued he could have attended the meeting as a private citizen.

Town staff wouldn’t have sent a press release notifying the public of a possible quorum if any of board members were there as private citizens.  And let’s look back once more to Teddy Warner telling his mother that LSF was coming before the board to make a presentation.  Do you think he called her and said…I’m speaking to the elected official…and not the private citizen”?

But there’s more…each commissioner serves as a liaison on one of the various committees and commissions for the town.  In recent months, Bellflowers has spearheaded a movement to send all presentations to the appropriate committees for recommendations to the board.   In their capacity as liaison board members, they will have to excuse themselves and leave the room prior to any proposal during which an outside organization mentions the possibility of buying or leasing municipal property.  They can ask if it will include that specific topic prior to the presentation…but I asked if Monday night’s presentation would involve discussion about buying or leasing municipal property, and I was told it wouldn’t.  It totally did.

I could pick up a phone right now and call any commissioner and immediately say I’m interested in buying/leasing a piece of municipal property and the board member is already guilty of having a discussion without all elected officials present.  They could tell me they can’t have that conversation and hang up and no one would be any wiser.  But then they’re in an awkward position in that protocol dictates they contact the town manager and have her put the proposal on the agenda.  She’d know they violated the ordinance.  But if they don’t call her, they’re failing the constituents they swore to serve.

The ordinance itself is rather vague in that it doesn’t stipulate the board has to be in the Board room, in Town Hall, acting in an official capacity.  And it’s possible that was the intended spirit of the rule.   Considering the allegations hurled at Mayor Warner, it’s easy to imagine it was intentionally written to be broad and vague…and easily broken.  If that was the purpose…then well done.  It worked.

 

 

 

 

 

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