It was an idea first floated by Chris Rey, the former mayor of Spring Lake, when he became chairman of the Cumberland County Mayors Coalition about five years ago. Rey’s dream was to have a countywide meeting of all of the elected officials, from city and county government up to those serving in state office in Raleigh.
Next month, that dream will finally come to pass when county leaders meet Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Crown Complex ballroom for ethics training and an economic development presentation.
The August meeting was the brainchild of Cliff Turpin, mayor of Falcon, who currently chairs the Mayors Coalition. Vice-chair Jackie Warner, the mayor of Hope Mills, said Turpin made the countywide meeting a project when he first took over as chairman.
“It was brought up that we have to go for ethics training and each municipality goes at their own chosen time,’’ Warner said. “Some municipalities don’t go together and don’t hear the same things.’’
Warner said a plan was developed to bring all the county’s elected officials, from mayors to board members to state representatives, together for the ethics training.
Warner said the idea is to show that all the municipalities and state and county government representatives are unified and want Cumberland County to flourish.
“The conversations we’re having are some of the best conversations we’ve had since I’ve been mayor,’’ Warner said. “It’s amazing all the mayors can sit down and talk about each community, but we can also talk about Cumberland County as a whole. We’ve not done that before.’’
Warner said the ethics training was planned well in advance so as many elected officials from the county as possible could clear their schedules and make sure to be able to attend.
Warner hopes the Mayors Coalition has set an example for others who will be attending the meeting by checking loyalty to a particular political party at the door.
“I’m coming as Hope Mills mayor, not as which party I belong to,’’ Warner said. “Working together for Cumberland County, we’ll all benefit. The Mayors Coalition has set the example for that. We are a mix of all parties, and what’s happened is we’ve been able to work not only together but effectively.’’
The ethics training that will be part of the meeting next month is required by state law. Newly elected representatives get training geared especially for them while those who’ve been re-elected get a refresher course.
The ethics sessions will be led by two live presenters, Frayda Bluestein and Norma Houston of the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill.
Warner said it’s important for local government leaders to hear the same ethics presentation.
“If we’ve all sat down and listened to the same training, we’ll come away hopefully with the same set of values,” she said.
The ethics topics cover a variety of areas, Warner said, from conflict of interest to open and closed meetings.
“This is the accepted way you should be doing things,’’ Warner said. “With the public eye on us all the time, I think people need to be aware of what they can or can’t do or what they should do.’’
Warner said ethics is about learning how to perform the job with the greater good in mind and not just performing political favors for the people who helped get you elected.
“I have to make good decisions and our board has to make good decisions based on the whole city,’’ Warner said. “This ethics training shows you’ve got to make good decisions based on things you know are right, not on those tugs you’re being pulled by.’’
The training also deals with situations when an elected leader should recuse himself or herself from a vote because of a possible conflict of interest. But Warner said there’s also a lesson to be learned about not wanting to vote.
“You can’t arbitrarily say ‘I don’t want to vote for this,’ unless there’s a conflict of interest,’’ Warner said.
Warner said she’s glad the upcoming ethics session will have live presenters so people can ask questions and everyone can hear the same answers.
“The big reason for us getting this group together is so we can all meet each other and start thinking about a unified county, working together instead of in isolation,’’ she said.
PHOTO: Hope Mills Mayor, Jackie Warner.