Community Politics

May 20th Meeting Recap

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– The Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau produced this amazing Visitors Guide for Hope Mills.   FACVB did a tremendous amount of research for the books and paid for them so they didn’t cost the tax payers anything.  And they’re really beautifully done.  They should be popping up all over town very soon, if they haven’t already, so be sure to grab one.  Lots of local businesses and attractions are mentioned as well as our town history and special events.  I know Commissioner Bellflowers picked up a box or two of the books last week so if you have trouble finding a copy…track him down and ask for one.

– In March 2017 the previous board adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly for the authority to contract for red light cameras.  Representatives John Szoka and Wesley Meredith were promoting the issue but it was sent to Committee where everyone assumed it died a slow political death…until it recently popped up in local news .  It’s been approved by the House and is now on its way to the Senate for approval.

If approved, it simply gives the town of Hope Mills the authority to contract with a company who installs and administers the system…which includes issuing tickets for running red lights.  Town manager Melissa Adams pointed out that a portion of the revenue from those tickets goes to Cumberland County schools.

Commissioner Mitchell immediately made a motion to ‘kill’ the initiative calling it ‘way too controversial’.  It actually is a controversial issue and I’ve read a lot of legitimate arguments against the program.  None of them were mentioned that night.

Mitchell continued “it’s not worth the squeeze in my opinion, it’s demoralizing our citizens.”

The program is actually discreet.  A ticket is generated and mailed to the registered user of the vehicle.  The owner is able to pay the fine on line without the ‘demoralizing’ issue of being stopped by HMPD on Main Street or an inconvenient trip to traffic court.

Commissioner Bellflowers asked Commissioners Edwards and Legge, who were on the Board that drafted the resolution, why they supported it.  Edwards cited traffic safety.  The cameras become a huge deterrent to drivers running red lights and are supposed to prevent car accidents.  She also mentioned that Cumberland County schools will benefit from the program.

Legge reiterated her comment about the schools benefiting, then said he always reads the agenda and decides how he will vote, but admitted he’s sometimes swayed by public comments or his fellow Board members.  Then, he reversed his decision and withdrew his support of the program claiming it won’t benefit the people of Hope Mills.  Since he was the third person to mention that a portion of the revenue went to Cumberland County schools, and Hope Mills students attend Cumberland County schools, I’m not sure why he said that.

Mayor Warner reminded the Board they weren’t obligated to implement the program if it’s approved by the Senate and that it would be inappropriate to vote against it before the General Assembly rendered a decision.  Attorney Dan Hartzog also reminded the Board they don’t have the authority to ‘kill’ the initiative, and that it would simply give them an option if approved.

Ultimately Mitchell rescinded his motion but added “It’s kinda pathetic I’ve been on the board for a year and a half and I’m finding out about it now.”  It sounds like he’s finally admitting he’s not very good at what he does…but he’s not.  This was a passive-aggressive reminder to Melissa, that he thinks she failed to do her job.  “It just seems like with all the updates we get it should be something here in this room – we shouldn’t have to find out about it on the news.”

Melissa Adams clarified she was not contacted by the General Assembly after the issue passed the House and that she read about it in the local news.  Mayor Warner echoed her statement.

– Next, Commissioner Larson made a motion to disband the Aquatics Feasibility Committee (AFC).  She cited a lack of interest from that committee and the Parks and Recreation Committee as her reason and said the second meeting was cancelled due to a lack of quorum.  However, during discussion with Commissioner Bellflowers, we learned the committee had a successful first meeting before the second meeting was cancelled, and Larson admitted there was some kind of scheduling controversy which played a role in the lack of a quorum.

Larson said ‘A partnership with the YMCA is just not in the best interest of the citizens of Hope Mills – they don’t wanna give up the land – they feel it would be better for the town to own their own outdoor pool or a splash pad – um, and then charging fees to the members of the YMCA.”

I attended the initial meeting between the Parks and Recreation Committee and the YMCA, and they were definitely interested in perusing a partnership.  Six of the eight members voted to recommend to the board they form a feasibility committee to consider the partnership with the YMCA.

During the second AFC meeting, the one that had a scheduling issue, they were supposed to hear a proposal from a YMCA rep, to include fundraising options.  The rep flew in from out of state specifically to give that presentation, just to learn the meeting was cancelled.

Commissioner Edwards pointed out the survey results from McAdams Group all indicate the people of Hope Mills want an aquatics center, but Commissioner Larson argued they can’t afford an aquatics center and need to focus on infrastructure.  Interestingly, Commissioner Larson wasn’t worried about focusing on infrastructure when she was pushing for a walking trail on the golf course.  It’s also interesting that Larson completely misrepresented the ‘lack of interest’ in an effort to dissolve the committee before they could hear the YMCA proposal.  The board voted 4/1 to disband the Aquatics feasibility Committee.

– The board discussed the golf course walking trail. They received a bid of $29,268 for the engineering of the ADA accessibility changes from the parking lot to the walking trail and for bump-outs.

In 2013 the town was sued because the ball-fields in and around Municipal Park weren’t ADA accessible.  Commissioner Mitchell asked, twice, if they were simply required to make one park ADA accessible, and was told, twice that all parks had to have ADA access.

During the budget retreat in March the board voted to hire Stewart Inc. to assess all municipal lands and determine what ADA adjustments were required.  The Stewart study will either cost tax payers $39,551 as quoted in the minutes from the budget retreat, or $75,000 as mentioned by Commissioner Bellflowers during this meeting.

Melissa Adams asked if the board wanted to open the walking trail while they waited for the report.  Mitchell commented, “there’s no oversight authority for compliance other than law firms that want to make a buck – am I right?”

Then he added, “we open this park next week – other group comes in July 1st and they say you got problems over here – we’re doing due diligence to get everything into compliance.  What’s the ramifications?”

The attorney said he didn’t recommend that course of action since the board knew the park wasn’t ADA complaint but Larson interjected…”Do we?” and Mitchell said he wasn’t convinced the golf course wasn’t ADA accessible.

The attorney reminded them they were on record.  Not only is the meeting videotaped but there were 20 witnesses in the room.

Ultimately they decided to leave the walking trail/golf course closed until further notice and reject the $29,000 bid until they receive results from Stewart.

– Finally, they discussed an amendment to the budget to pay James Cauley, the investigator, $25,306.  But Mitchell wasn’t in a hurry to pay him…

“I don’t have a problem with the amendment but it’d be my recommendation that we don’t pay for the investigation until after the exit conference…I believe there’s an extra fee for the exit conference – I was a little taken aback – I don’t mind the budget amendment, I do mind the payment being made before the exit conference occurs.”

The exit conference was scheduled, tentatively, for May 29.  Nine days later.

Hartzog suggested they pay Cauley and reminded the board that he’d cut his hours to stay as close to the estimated $25,000 as possible.  This was the first mention of the board receiving a quoted price, which means they knew prior to voting on the investigation how much it would cost the tax payers.

Hartzog indicated that he and Cauley had agreed the payment would be rendered at ‘the end’ and Larson said, “But the end hasn’t happened yet” and laughed!

To recap, the board agreed to pay James Cauley roughly $25,000 to investigate themselves and the staff of wrongdoing.  It wasn’t until the end of the investigation when they decided they wanted Cauley to attend a meeting and present the results of the investigation.  The presentation was never part of the initial agreement and Cauley was under no obligation to attend an exit conference.

Larson continued, “It would be incredibly inappropriate for us to report an investigation on our own board, and staff and outside entities…that’s inappropriate.”

It’s inappropriate to imply LSF or FCEDC acted inappropriately or that this board has the authority to investigate the actions of those agencies.  It’s inappropriate to level false accusations against the Mayor and her family and your staff as a decoy to distract the public from your bad behavior, it’s inappropriate to spend $25,000 of tax payer’s money on a bogus investigation when members of this board were well aware the accusations were false, and it’s inappropriate to even consider not paying the investigator.  I don’t think any tax paying member of this community would have objected to Dan Hartzog reading Cauley’s report if it saved us $1300.

Commissioner Bellflowers finally interjected and made a motion to pay Cauley immediately.

Now, knowing Commissioners Larson and Mitchell have rejected the results of the presentation, and that they and their supporters are trying to discredit the report, I have to wonder if they’d waited…would they have ever paid him?

 

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