Local News

State commission denies proposed contract for Spring Lake manager

spring lake logo The Local Government Commission has officially denied a proposed employment agreement that would allow the town of Spring Lake to hire Justine Jones as its next town manager.

The town board voted 3-2 on Oct. 10 to appoint Jones as permanent town manager with the condition that Jones, the Local Government Commission, the Board of Aldermen and the town attorney accept the contract terms.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is also the chairman of the Local Government Commission, sent out a press release on Oct. 13 stating that he would not approve the money to hire Jones citing statutory authority and the commission’s financial oversight of Spring Lake as his reasons for not approving the funding.

He also cited concern over the potential for legal and financial liabilities and the potential adverse impact on town morale.

Mayor Kia Anthony has since referred to being in “limbo” as far as hiring a town manager, saying there has not been an official response from the commission to the town. Since Oct. 10, there have been numerous closed sessions with the board and Town Attorney Michael Porter citing personnel and attorney-client privilege.

Jones served as the town manager of Kenly for three months before being fired. The town made national headlines when seven employees, including the police chief and four full-time police officers, resigned after Jones had been on the job for 45 days. They said she created a hostile work environment.

Anthony and Porter have said Kenly hired a third-party private investigator who determined that the claims of a hostile work environment were unfounded.

In the four-page letter sent Dec. 7 to the town, Local Government Commission Secretary Sharon Edmundson, who also serves as the deputy treasurer for the State and Local Government Finance Division, provided clarification and reasoning for the commission’s decision to deny the contract.

Edmundson reminded the board that the LGC had by a resolution from October 2021 exercised its authority to assume full control of all of the financial affairs of the town.

The Local Government Commission took over the town’s finances in October 2021 amid concerns over budget deficits, fiscal disarray and possible missing money. 

She added that in its role as the governing board for the town’s financial matters, the LGC may exercise financial power to hire a town manager.

“The LGC staff have historically collaborated with local governments under the LGC’s financial control to give deference to elected officials’ choices, provided those choices are prudent, reasonable, and fiscally sound given the specific circumstances of that local government’s overall fiscal health and situation,” Edmundson said in the letter.

Edmundson then outlined six concerns that led to the decision to decline the proposed employment agreement by Folwell, Edmundson and David Erwin, who was appointed the town’s finance officer on Nov. 2.

Their reasoning was as follows:
That the candidate does not meet preferred qualifications agreed to by the board in its 2023 Fiscal Accountability Agreement dated Sept. 26, specifically that the candidate should have experience with an N.C. municipal government that was in good standing after his/her tenure. According to the letter, Jones had less than four months of experience in an N.C. municipal government position and the town of Kenly was not currently in good standing with the LGC due to its missing financial audit report in 2021.
Jones had no experience as a town manager of a municipality of comparable size. Kenly has one-fifth the population of Spring Lake. Kenly is in Johnston and Wilson counties and has around 1,500 residents. Spring Lake has almost 12,000 residents.
Jones has no experience as a manager of a town recovering from severe fiscal distress and mismanagement.
Other than the brief period in Kenly, her work history shows no experience in a local government management position for the last seven years, from 2015-2022.
There was a split 3-2 vote from the Board of Aldermen for the selection, which indicates that the board was not in agreement and that this indicated a lack of confidence in the candidate. According to LGC staff, this often leads to further problems.
Former interim town manager Joe Durham stated that Jones would need coaching to handle the current management needs of the town. He had offered free coaching. However, the LGC said this further showed there was a lack of substantial and necessary experience as a town manager.

Edmundson furthered that the LGC recognized that the town was still recovering from years of financial mismanagement and employee malfeasance.

An investigative audit report released March 17 by State Auditor Beth Wood outlined six findings, including that the former finance director Gay Tucker used more than $400,000 in town money for personal use and that town employees had spent over $100,000 in questionable credit card purchases.

Tucker pleaded guilty in September to embezzling more than $500,000 from the town between 2016 and 2021. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 14.

“Recognizing this situation, the LGC staff aspire to work collaboratively with you, as the Town officials, to make the best financial decisions. But the duty of financial stewardship and loyalty of the LGC, its staff, and the Treasurer to the citizens and taxpayers should take precedence over the LGC staff’s customary deference to decisions of the elected officials,” Edmundson said.

The letter also noted that Porter had demanded LGC review the proposed employment agreement and had threatened multiple times to bring legal action against the LGC due to its delayed response.

Edmundson said these threats came despite the LGC staff continuing to handle financial matters of the town on a timely basis and as the town named Jason Williams to be interim town manager on Nov. 14.

She said Porter first provided the agreement less than an hour before a regularly scheduled meeting of the full Local Government Commission on Nov. 1 in Cullowhee without leaving any time for LGC staff to review the materials or advise commission members on the matter. She also added that the contract would normally not have been presented to the LGC for review and approval because of already approved LGC resolutions.

Considering Porter’s demands, the contract came up at the December LGC meeting on Tuesday, where Folwell brought up the proposed agreement and noted that staff recommended denial.

“The Treasurer stated that he was willing to put this matter to a separate vote by the Commission, despite the delegation of authority from the LGC to staff as noted above. Consequently, to move forward, we are now communicating the decision to not approve the proposed employment agreement,” Edmundson said.

She said Folwell and the LGC staff were willing to assist in hiring a town manager and outlined what the LGC considered necessary executive and administration qualifications for a new town manager.

This skill set includes:

  • A demonstrated success and experience as a manager of a North Carolina municipality with a size of population, staff, services, and budget comparable to that of Spring Lake, most preferably for a minimum of two years. It was added that three to four years would be better.
  • Possibly demonstrated success as a manager in turning around a distressed town or community.
  • The ability to hit the ground running leading all town administrative functions.
  • Demonstrated attention to detail in all written and oral correspondence. (Jones sent a cover letter and resume to the “Town of Spring Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia” before sending a corrected version to the town of Spring Lake.)

    Anthony, Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick and Alderwoman Sona Cooper did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

    Alderman Raul Palacios said in response to the letter Thursday that Folwell made the right call for Spring Lake. Palacios was one of the aldermen who voted against hiring Jones, saying there were other applicants who were more qualified.

    “Another positive outcome to this is that the LGC has defined its role in the hiring process and has outlined qualities they’re looking for in our next town manager,’’ Palacios said. “The treasurer’s office did acknowledge our interim town manager Jason Williams has been ‘performing well,’ so Spring Lake citizens can rest knowing we are in capable hands at this time.”

    According to Palacios, the board made the decision to file suit against the state and the LGC during a meeting Tuesday night.

    “The petition is for a Writ of Mandamus, which is asking the court to command a public authority to perform an official duty,’’ Palacios said. “In this case, the town is wanting the LGC to approve or deny the contract for Justine Jones.’’

    He said the board made the decision because the LGC had the contract for over 30 days and took no action other than news releases.

    Palacios said that after receiving the letter from Edmundson, Porter had emailed the board that in light of obtaining a final decision he would stand down until otherwise instructed.

    Edmundson said Folwell has consistently stated that the focus of the LGC’s financial decisions is to protect the town’s citizens, the taxpayers and their tax dollars, and to make wise use of the town’s limited resources.

    “The goal has always been to help the Town regain its financial footing so that full control may be returned to its governing board,” Edmundson said.

    She added that Folwell had repeatedly offered to meet with Anthony to discuss how best to move forward in finding the right candidate.

    “The practice of the LGC staff has always been to work in collaboration with Town officials and staff on key issues,’’ Edmundson said. “Yet it has been difficult to find points of agreement with the Town on both process and substance of financial decisions during this time of LGC financial control.”

    Folwell and Anthony have not met despite discussing meeting since mid-October.

    “We have great hopes for the future of Spring Lake and look forward to working collaboratively with you to identify and hire the appropriate individual for this key position,” Edmundson said.

    The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Aldermen is Monday, Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Spring Lake Town Hall. There is a closed session on the agenda with general statutes cited for personnel and attorney-client privilege.

Cumberland school bus flips over on Slocomb Road; injuries not life-threatening

pedestrian No life-threatening injuries were reported Dec. 8 when a Cumberland County Schools bus overturned in the 2000 block of Slocomb Road, according to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

The accident was reported at 8:05 a.m. Thursday. School Bus 403 flipped over on the side of the road.
Twenty-three Pine Forest High School students were on the bus, according to a statement from Cumberland County Schools.

“As a precaution, students and the bus driver were transported to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center's main campus for evaluation,’’ the school system said.

Details of what caused the accident were not immediately available.

The N.C. State Highway Patrol is investigating the accident, the news release said.

“We are grateful to law enforcement and first responders who worked with school officials to respond quickly to this situation,’’ the school system said. “While the accident is still under investigation by law enforcement, we are thankful that there were no life-threatening injuries.’’

Drivers were cautioned to avoid Slocomb Road, which was closed to traffic.

Residents question whether ShotSpotter gunshot technology is right for Fayetteville

fayetteville nc logo Cynthia Leeks says she thinks ShotSpotter is a good company, but she told representatives of the gunshot-detection business on Dec. 7 that the technology is not suitable for Fayetteville.

Leeks was among more than 30 people who attended the first of three information sessions designed to explain the program to the public and field questions how it works.

Another in-person meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Kiwanis Recreation Center, 352 Devers St. A remote version of the presentation is set for noon Friday on the online meeting forum Zoom.

“This seems to be one-sided to me,” Leeks said from her seat in Smith Recreation Center on Slater Avenue. “I think you all are a great company, but this is not for Fayetteville, North Carolina. We are right here at Fort Bragg, and what the gentleman said, he hears M16s all night. I don’t know what they do out there.”

Law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented technology to help reduce gun violence. One of those tools is an acoustic gunshot detection system that can verify when and where shots are fired and to automatically notify police dispatchers.
On its website, ShotSpotter says it uses an array of acoustic sensors that are connected to a cloud-based application designed to accurately locate gunshots. Each acoustic sensor captures the precise time and audio from sounds that may be from gunfire. The data is used to locate where the noise originated and uses algorithms to determine if the source might be a gunshot.

Ron Teachman, director of public safety for ShotSpotter, said law enforcement officers have been shown to arrive faster with the use of the gunshot technology.

The cost for the “guns fired” technology will be $197,000, according to Jack Pontious, a director of Northeast region sales at ShotSpotter, which is based in Fremont, California.

“I’m real excited about working with Fayetteville police,” Pontious said.

But skeptics say the technology is no more effective than a 911 call from a resident or business.

“What is the police department saying about this?” Leeks asked Teachman. “It just seems to infringe on their responsibility. And it’s just not clear-cut here. I’m not at all happy with the fact that high crime is in my community. I’m a person of color; it’s in my community. What are you talking about doing — sending a police officer there each time we hear gunshots? I hear gunshots every night.”

Last month, the Fayetteville City Council voted 6-4 to proceed with implementing gunshot-reporting technology, with the stipulation that ShotSpotter representatives appear at three public forums to answer questions about how it works.

The council authorized the city manager to pursue a contract with ShotSpotter after the forums are held and with some contract modifications.
That followed a 7-3 vote against a motion by Councilman Mario Benavente that the council not proceed with the contract. Council members Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Shakeyla Ingram joined Benavente to oppose pursuing a contract.

John Czajkowski, 71, came to Wednesday’s information session to hear the presentation from the ShotSpotter representatives.

“I’d rather see the money spent here,” Cazjkowski said. “If you want ShotSpotter, call 911 and give them the money. That will give them incentive. I believe in investing in community first.”

Leeks said she has encouraged people to call 911 instead of relying on the gunshot technology.

“I was just sitting here boiling because I cannot believe the city of Fayetteville has a contract with this company to come in and spend my tax dollars on stuff like this,” Leeks said. “You haven’t said a word about strengthening what we already have. You want to come in with something new and stress what we already have.”

Nathan Weber, a 35-year-old Methodist University student, and Susannah Wagner, 27 and a Cumberland County school teacher, both oppose the ShotSpotter contract.

“It’s a lot of money, in particular,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she and Weber spent a day researching the controversial technology before coming to the meeting.
Following the information session, representatives of Campaign Zero, a national campaign for police reform, offered what they called “the other side of the story.”

Campaign Zero, which dates to 2015, supports 10 proposals to reduce police violence. They cast double on what the ShotSpotter representatives said at Wednesday’s forum.

“They know what to say,” said Abby Magaraci, an analyst for Campaign Zero. “We're just not told the entire truth.”

Fayetteville airport unveils $37 million in terminal renovations, expansion

airport 3 Director Toney Coleman Fayetteville Regional Airport unveiled its terminal renovations and expansion on Dec. 7, according to a city news release.

The renovations include a new entrance canopy; enhanced security screening area; reconstruction of the rental parking lot; Concourse B upgrades; new airline offices and counter spaces; new escalators and elevators; upgraded baggage claim wings; and new administrative offices, according to the news release.

Airport Director Toney Coleman presided at the ceremony.

In addition to Coleman, speakers included Mark Lynch, chairman of the Airport Commission, Mayor Mitch Colvin; City Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin; and City Manager Doug Hewett. Airport 1

The more than $37 million in renovations were financed through grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, state of North Carolina, and airport’s fund balance, the release said.

Airport officials said the renovations will save travelers time during the busy holiday travel season.

Methodist University to hold winter commencement for more than 100 graduates

President Stanley T Wearden speaking at 2021 grad at Crown Methodist University will hold its winter commencement Saturday morning, Dec. 10 at the Crown Coliseum.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., according to a university news release. More than 100 graduates will receive their degrees in the final Class of 2022, the release said.

They include Charlisa Lawrence-Joseph, a Dominica native whose country’s flag will be presented during the commencement. The flag will then be permanently displayed in Berns Students Center on campus along with more than 120 flags from other countries across the world, the release said.

Continuing a university tradition, graduates will receive their degrees from Methodist President Stanley T. Wearden as well as participate in an academic hooding ceremony onstage. Each graduate will be hooded by an individual sponsor such as a parent, spouse, child, professor or friend, the release said.

The commencement speaker will be John “Mac” Healy, immediate past chairman of the university’s board of trustees. Healy is president of Healy Wholesale Co. and has lived in the Fayetteville area for more than four decades, the release said.

“It is my pleasure to address this impressive group of graduates,” Healy said in the news release. “These young adults have overcome enormous obstacles to be the newest group of Methodist University graduates. I am truly honored to share this hard-fought victory with them and their families and look forward to watching each of them accept their degree.”

A baccalaureate service recognizing the graduates is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday in Matthews Chapel. The service will feature the MU Chamber Singers, voice and instrumental soloists, and readers from the graduating class who will lead the congregation in prayers, carols and hymns, according to the news release. students at 2021 graduation at Crown

“The faculty, staff, alumni and friends of MU are thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of our most recent Methodist University graduates,” Provost Suzanne Blum Malley said in the release. “They have navigated the demands of their academic programs during the upheaval of a global pandemic. We are impressed by their resilience and proud of their commitment to our Methodist University mission and values.”

Graduates and their families can find more information about the hooding ceremony, caps and gowns, parking, tickets, baccalaureate and more at www.methodist.edu/life-at-mu/graduation/.


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