17Mike MitchellOn July 26, Hope Mills Commissioner Mike Mitchell wrote the first of many confusing and misleading posts on his Facebook page. He accused the mayor and several staff members of colluding with Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation to facilitate the sale of Hope Mills property to Lone Survivor Foundation.
Mitchell bemoaned the procedure followed by the mayor and her staff, alleging they circumvented the board in allowing LSF to conduct soil testing and schedule a presentation by FCEDC and the executive director of LSF during a closed session on June 4. After the June 4 meeting, all of the commissioners, with the exception of Mitchell, were overwhelmingly excited to host an LSF facility in Hope Mills. And while Mitchell never expressed excitement, he suspended his reservations long enough to quote an initial price to the LSF.

The commissioners are elected to establish policy. That’s it. The town manager executes their established policy. This is an important distinction to remember. It’s also important to remember each elected official is required to attend classes that explain in great detail what exactly their role is within the community.

Town Manager Melissa Adams and her staff have standard operating procedures they follow in any given situation. If a member of the board is approached with an offer, they convey all information to Adams. She then puts her staff to work cross-referencing land use plans, contacting relevant agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Fayetteville’s PWC and pulling all documentation on that parcel of land. The staff make a joint presentation to the board to ensure the board members have all pertinent information before voting.
Despite a well-documented history of the staff following this exact procedure, Mitchell was offended at having been left out of the process. For nearly three weeks, he’s repeated the same complaints on social media – insisting the land was never for sale and alluding to a conspiracy involving the mayor. His actions beg the question: Does Mitchell fully comprehend the policies and procedures guiding the board?
Mitchell accused Teddy Warner, the director of business development for FCEDC and the mayor’s son, of soliciting LSF with the intention of selling this piece of land, and then conspiring with Mayor Jackie Warner to facilitate the sale. Mitchell even went so far as to ask the president of FCEDC if he felt there was a conflict of interest. There was not. A conflict of interest would only exist if either party could benefit from the transaction. For instance, if a board member discussed the buying or selling of town property with a personal client and the commissioner stood to profit in some way, a conflict would exist.

Ironically, Mitchell admitted to violating the very procedure he’s accused the mayor of violating when he announced he’s received multiple requests from nonprofit organizations wanting to purchase the piece of property LSF is interested in. Mitchell abandoned the democratic process by refusing to bring the information to the staff or let the board vote on the issue, and simply told each organization the land wasn’t for sale. Freedom of Information Act requests for details about those offers have been ignored by Mitchell.

Freshman Commissioner Meg Larson seems to be struggling in her role as well. While Larson was initially excited to partner with LSF, her opinion seems to have been influenced at some point between the June 4 and 18 meetings. She’s been agitated during commissioner meetings and antagonistic toward staff members and the mayor. Commissioner Pat Edwards confirmed that it was Larson who emailed a copy of the PWC surveys to board members after the June 4 closed session. Those surveys indicated that PWC identified Lake Bed #2, the land LSF wants to purchase, as a potential site for a multi- purpose reservoir if the county required more water in the future.

Larson circumvented the board when she reached out to PWC for clarification. Mick Nolan, chief operations officer of the Water Resource Division at PWC, responded to the inquiry on July 18, assuring her there were more recent surveys indicating the reservoir was unnecessary and that PWC had abandoned its earlier plan. This piece of information was not relayed to the other board members by Larson. They received it from a staff member shortly before the July 23 meeting. While Larson has been aware of the recent PWC surveys for nearly a month, she still has the old surveys posted on her social media accounts.
A source close to the situation said Larson recently submitted a flurry of FOIA requests specifically targeting correspondence between Warner and both the FCEDC and the Mayors’ Coalition. More than one constituent is questioning whether Larson has adequately made the transition from citizen to elected official, and to whom does her loyalty belong? Like the PWC request, these requests were submitted without the board’s approval.

To date, there’s been no evidence that either Mitchell or Larson have requested any relevant information to help them make informed decisions about a partnership with LSF. But there is evidence they’ve both violated policy in their attempts to prove a conspiracy theory involving the mayor.
Photo: Hope Mills Commissioner Mike Mitchell

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