The meeting was generally harmonious, with no bitter debate, and the commissioners acted swiftly to reverse actions of the previous board and restore powers that had been taken away from five-term mayor Jackie Warner.
Before voting on restoring Warner’s powers, the board heard a brief presentation from town manager Melissa Adams concerning board policies and dos and don’ts for how the board and manager work together.
There were multiple situations where the previous board overstepped its authority and engaged in activities reserved for the town manager.
Adams shared with the board, not in lecturing fashion but as information for everyone involved, what the normal relationship with the town manager and the commissioners is.
Among the key points were:
1. Commissioners should not contact town staff. Questions should be sent to Adams, who will address the proper staff member.
2. Board members should not assign tasks to town staff. That is Adams’ responsibility.
3. If there are problems between board members or between the board and town staff they should be discussed in an open, diplomatic manner.
4. Board members should never contact the town’s vendors. Those questions should be directed to Adams to handle.
When it came time to discuss restoring some of the mayor’s powers, returning commissioner Jessie Bellflowers launched into a lengthy discussion of a booklet written by Trey Allen of the University of North Carolina School of Government dealing with powers assigned to the mayor by town boards or councils.
Bellflowers noted that Allen’s book suggested the mayor not have the power to make motions or nominate people to serve on town committees.
But town attorney Dan Hartzog informed the board that Allen’s book was only a suggestion, not mandatory, adding that there was nothing in the official statutes that prohibited a town’s governing board from allowing the mayor to nominate or make motions at meetings.
The only legal restrictions on the mayor of Hope Mills are limiting his or her right to vote only in situations where there is a tie.
Since the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners includes five voting members, ties normally can only occur when at least one member is absent.
Bellflowers further sought to limit Warner’s powers by requiring the board to not vote on any issue involving the sale or lease of town property unless all five commissioners were present for the meeting.
The board voted 4-1, with Bellflowers the lone dissenting vote, to repeal that requirement.
Warner did not lobby the board during the meeting for the return of her powers. She noted, however, that historically the Hope Mills mayor has enjoyed broader powers than the previous board allowed her to exercise.
“I truly do believe I was elected by the people and their expectation oftentimes is I have to take ownership of things,’’ Warner said.
As a specific example of the benefit of allowing the mayor the power to appoint people to committees, she cited the work of former Mayor Al Brafford, who was a central figure in putting together the committee that eventually helped Hope Mills get a branch of the Cumberland County library constructed in the town.
“That committee went to the county commissioners and raised money,’’ Warner said. “They had a lot of support and that’s how we got the library.’’
Board of Commissioners newly-elected members Bryan Marley and Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Kenjuana McCray agreed the mayor needs broader powers than allowed by the previous board. “She needs to be the ambassador for the town,’’ Marley said. “She’s advertising for the town. That’s her job, in my opinion.’’
McCray concurred, saying as a citizen she wouldn’t want the mayor to lack power to help run the town effectively and efficiently.
“Those are things she’s been doing and other mayors had been doing prior to last year,’’ McCray said. “She needed to be able to continue to have those powers to continue to run the town the way it needs to be run.’’
In a Facebook post, one former commissioner questioned the new board moving so quickly to restore Warner’s powers before undergoing training from the Institute of Government next month.
As the only person elected who has never served on the board, McCray disputed that theory.
“I have a doctorate degree,’’ she said. “I know how to read and research information. I know how to make informed decisions based off what I read.’’