Thank goodness for honest and conscientious Spring Lake residents like Rita Perry. Perry was the first citizen to finally come forward to expose possible fraud and misuse of Spring Lake’s revenues through the misuse of town-issued credit cards by Spring Lake’s Board of Aldermen and department managers. 

Perry gained access to the town’s expense records via a public records request, and the process began of verifying what many of us close to Spring Lake have already suspected: mismanagement and possible corruption have become a way of life for their small town government. Personally, I am very proud of Rita Perry. 

My relationship with Spring Lake dates back decades. By working with the town and the local Chamber of Commerce, I have seen it at its best and, unfortunately, I have watched it deteriorate to its present state. My involvement was through our community newspaper, Up & Coming Weekly, working with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the community, support local businesses, enhance economic development and create a positive image for the town. We communicated its historical perspective and assisted Spring Lake in developing a brand they could market, promote and be proud. 

Under the direction of then-Chamber of Commerce Director Jamie McLaughlin, Spring Lake was emerging alive, proud and enthusiastic. Attitudes were changing, businesses were stepping up to get involved, the Chamber was growing its membership and, working with Jamie at the Chamber’s helm, together we created the town’s own newspaper, the Spring Lake Beacon. For more than two years this publication flourished showcasing Spring Lake’s history, supporting local businesses, informing the residents of community news and upcoming events, local personalities and basically promoting Spring Lake’s personality and brand. Unfortunately, that lasted only for about two years. Then for reasons unknown, the town stopped supporting the project and the Chamber of Commerce. 

Once that happened, local businesses withdrew their support, McLaughlin resigned and took another position with the City of Fayetteville and both the Chamber and the entire town took on a “poor me” persona, always expounding on never having any money or resources to support what we all know are basic quality-of-life amenities. “What’s in it for me?” seemed to be the underlying attitude permeating throughout the Town of Spring Lake’s leadership and management as well as that of the Chamber of Commerce.

This situation was very baffling and extremely disappointing. However, like many others, we (our newspaper) work with businesses and organizations that want to work with us. In any situation, we know: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck” it is probably “a duck”. 

In the June State Auditor report on Spring Lake’s finances, they found “the duck”. The report stated that town employees, the Board of Aldermen and possibly Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey spent more than $500,000 on questionable purchases in violation of its own policy. The report questioned other expenditures as well as sloppy, careless and faulty record keeping between 2010 and 2015. Hmmmm, so what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you what the big deal is. 

Shame on Mayor Rey and the rest of the town’s leadership for allowing it to go on. It’s common knowledge that for decades residents and friends of the Town of Spring Lake have come forward, stepped up and generously donated their time, talent and money to assist in improving local business, economic development and the overall quality of life of Spring Lake’s 13,000+ residents only to have leadership rebuff the progressive ideas, ventures and partnerships that were offered up under the guise of “Spring Lake can’t afford it,” or “We just don’t have the money,” when, what they really meant was, “What’s in it for me?” If that answer was “nothing,” then that’s exactly what the residents of the Town of Spring Lake got. Nothing. 

Again, shame on them, for selfishly mismanaging the revenues that rightfully belonged to the citizens. Resignations need to be forthcoming and charges need to be filed for robbing this innocent community and depriving its citizens of their quality of life. I certainly hope the state investigation into this atrocity goes deep. Egregious misconduct of this nature does not proliferate or endure without accomplices. Willing enablers, cooperating people, businesses and organizations aiding and abetting the situation, i.e., the relationship between Spring Lake’s management/leadership and the Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department.

To Rey’s credit he has gone on record and accepted the responsibility, admitting that the problem or “culture” as he called it, started before he was elected. So noted, however, he had four years to fix it and did nothing. After all, 60+ employees running amuck misusing the town’s credit cards is kind of hard to ignore. Rey’s defense that he was not aware is not going to be much of a defense. And, the resignation of former town Manager Ken Metcalf and the firing of Interim Finance Director Tina West is not going to be accepted as “problem solved.” 

Here’s what we know for sure: The state will get to the bottom of this. Rita Perry is an awesome “Shero” for her perseverance in standing up for what is right and just for all Spring Lake residents and, finally, Spring Lake is very fortunate to have the talented and hard working Tad Davis as their Town Manager. His vision and abilities can only prove to be a huge asset for the Town of Spring Lake. All he needs are the resources and support of the community. Hey, just think what he could have done for Spring Lake with more than  $500,000 of the misallocated funds. Just saying! 

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly

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