Who would have thought the integrity and competency levels of the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners would fall lower than Hope Mills Lake’s levels? Neither is moving the community forward, and residents are not pleased at all.
It’s an understatement to say that Hope Mills residents are agitated over the way the board has treated the town’s beloved mayor, Jackie Warner, and at the prospect of having to lower the water level of the lake to finish construction of the bulkhead.
In the case of the bulkhead, residents feel this work could have, and should have, been planned, scheduled and finished in the winter months — not during the spring and summer season, when residents anticipate enjoying the lake most. Citizens are pointing the finger at the commissioners’ lack of vision and poor planning, their penchant for micromanaging staff and their reluctance to allow town employees to do their job.
The board is unable to focus on the issues and priorities of the town because of their obsession with unseating and displacing Warner by stripping her of responsibilities. A well-orchestrated conspiracy to render her ineffective by making her appear careless, unapproachable and defiant is in full swing. However, as the warm weather and sunny summer days approach, Hope Mills residents are realizing it is not the mayor who has delayed progress on construction of the bulkhead, the kayak launch, the handicap ramp and the steps in the swimming area.
The consensus is that Commissioners Meg Larson, Mike Mitchell, Jerry Legge and Jessie Bellflowers have needlessly caused these delays because of their obsession with micromanaging and controlling every detail of the project.
It is the same kind of attention on the wrong things that allowed art sculptures created by students at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to disappear from the Hope Mills landscape. As a result, residents are disappointed, students lose an opportunity, Hope Mills fails to move forward culturally, and future expectations of growth and economic prosperity dissipate — along with the lake’s water levels.
Unfortunately, it gets crazier.
The recent situation concerning the town losing its art sculptures because of a failure to renew the agreement is the near-perfect example of the misplaced priorities of most Hope Mills elected officials and their reluctance to take responsibility for their actions — or in this case, their inaction.
Larson, Mitchell, Legge and Bellflowers called a special meeting of the board for March 25 to discuss and explain the breakdown in communications with UNC-P professor Adam Walls that had resulted in the loss of the art sculptures from Municipal Park. They also discussed an Up & Coming Weekly article published March 20, written by our writer and Hope Mills correspondent Earl Vaughan Jr., concerning the sculptures.
While the meeting was scheduled on the pretense of discussing the disappearing UNC-P art sculptures, as well as the disparaging media coverage, it was revealed to be an excuse to create another event to degrade and embarrass Warner.
Additionally, it was an attempt to discredit Up & Coming Weekly: both me (Bill Bowman) as the publisher and our writer Earl Vaughan Jr.
Four of the board members arrived with a written resolution to cast a public vote of “No Confidence” against Warner. Mission accomplished — while uninformed Hope Mills citizens are left scratching their heads and wondering what the heck is going on.
Those four elected officials got their way; they have the votes. That’s the way the system works. Only Commissioner Pat Edwards had the determination and intestinal fortitude to speak her mind and call out the entire process for what it was — wrong. Even as the pressure mounts, she remains the lone holdout, refusing to accept the “destroy Warner at all costs” doctrine.
No doubt, Edwards finds encouragement and strength in the fact that she speaks not for hundreds but thousands of Hope Mills residents who want more and expect more from their town leadership and elected officials. Specifically, the truth.
Here is the truth about this situation. By reading on, you can begin to understand what’s going on and get the information you need to make intelligent, responsible and informed decisions about the future of the Hope Mills community.
What follows in italics is the kind of information you will only get in this publication and on Hopemills.net. Both are free with open access to the public. We recommend you subscribe to both.
The special meeting was held March 25 on the pretense of finding out what happened to the art sculptures and why they were being removed and to discuss Earl Vaughan Jr.’s March 20 article in Up & Coming Weekly.
The real purpose was to present a resolution of “No Confidence” on Warner. The board had no intention of hearing the truth about the matter. If they wanted the truth, they would have invited and/or spoken with Walls, the UNC-P professor who was interviewed for the article; Up & Coming Weekly writer Earl Vaughan Jr., the author of the article; HopeMills.net author Elizabeth Blevins; and me (Bowman), the owner and publisher of Up & Coming Weekly. None of us were invited to attend the special meeting nor reached out to for clarification and productive discussion.
However, I showed up and sat there, in the second row, while they slandered me and questioned the integrity of my newspaper. I sat quietly through the barrage of insults and accusations, thinking that they would eventually call on me to respond to the charges and accusations. They did not. They ignored me — as well as the truth.
Bellflowers read out loud a paragraph that was said to be from our “deplorable” article. But, interestingly enough, you won’t be able to find the things he read aloud anywhere in the actual article that was published.
Next, Legge read a resolution obviously composed by Mitchell and Larson. It was a collection of inaccurate statements and proof that the board members had no interest in learning the truth — only in placing blame.
Mitchell, Larson, Legge and Bellflowers voted for the resolution. Edwards voted against it.
Here is their resolution. It puts on full display how the board is spending its time rather than securing our art, taking care of the Hope Mills Lake projects, securing commerce and creating economic vitality for Hope Mills — think back to the Lone Survivor Foundation situation.
1 - Whereas the Hope Mills Town Board appreciates and supports the cultural arts within our community.
Not true. The very board members who voted for this resolution were so uninterested in the single example of art in Hope Mills that they didn’t even notice as it disappeared.
Less than two weeks ago, Community Development Planner Chancer McLaughlin requested that the board provide a letter of approval to include in an art grants application. He explained the letter wasn’t required but would be appreciated. The board grilled him for more than 20 minutes before reluctantly agreeing to produce the letter.
2 - Whereas the Hope Mills Town Board believes it is important for elected officials to act in an honest, ethical and transparent manner for the citizens we serve.
Not true. Mitchell has a longstanding habit of posting questionable comments on his social media. He’s violated the constitutional rights of Hope Mills citizens who spoke against him by blocking them from his social media accounts, and he sent an email to the town manager indicating he didn’t want any member of the staff or the Board of Commissioners to attend a political rally.
It’s illegal to prevent members of the staff from attending political events.
3 - Whereas it is important for our citizens to trust information that is shared by our town leaders.
Trust is important, but the commissioners are not conducting themselves in a way that earns this trust.
As one example, Larson continues to share the PWC surveys, which PWC Chief Operations Officer Mick Noland condemned as outdated and irrelevant in July 2018.
4 - Whereas it is important for the elected to work together and share information that is important to the smooth operation of the town.
This is true, but there isn’t a single example of Larson, Legge or Mitchell having done this.
5 - Whereas Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner had knowledge of the time sensitive deadline of the Art in the Park agreement with a local university and did not immediately direct the matter to the town manager, who is responsible for the daily operations of the town.
Not true. The emails provided by the commissioners prove Warner contacted Town Manager Melissa Adams Aug. 22, 2018, the very day the UNC-P professor contacted her regarding the contract.
6 - Whereas Mayor Jackie Warner knowingly withheld the information concerning the time sensitive deadline of the Art in the Park agreement from the board of commissioners.
Not true. Every member of this board was present March 19, 2018, and again May 21, 2018, when the sculptures — and specifically, the deadline for renewing the sculptures — were discussed. This information is annotated in the official minutes from those meetings.
7 - Whereas Mayor Jackie Warner shared information about the art in the park agreement with the reporter from a local publication without ever bringing the matter before the board.
Not true. The responsibility of keeping the board updated on current issues belongs to the staff — not the mayor. Warner and the staff were searching for solutions to the problem; the board was not.
8 - Whereas the resulting article from the information shared by Mayor Jackie Warner cast aspersions upon our community and board and was unsettling to a local university, a resident and his students.
Not true. The article did not harm the professor, the university or the students. There was one comment in the article that casts doubt on the integrity of the board. It presented the opinion of a citizen — who is 100 percent entitled to his opinion. And while members of the board have reached out to him and claim he never made the comment, article author Earl Vaughan Jr. and Up & Coming Weekly stand by the integrity of the interview and the article.
9 - Whereas March 19, 2019, Mayor Jackie Warner shared the article to her official Mayor of Hope Mills Facebook page without any clarification to the readers.
True. However, if this justifies a censure, then Mitchell and Larson should be censured as well. They’ve both made a habit of sharing articles that are embarrassing to the town — and specifically to Warner — from another publication. In fact, Mitchell shared an article of questionable content March 27, two days after censuring the mayor for doing the same.
10 - Whereas Mayor Jackie Warner has shown a pattern of withholding information from her fellow board members and knowingly sharing misinformation through both social media and in public forum.
Not true. This is a thinly veiled reference to Larson’s belief that Warner was privy to more information about an offer from Lone Survivor Foundation than Warner shared with the board.
Warner has clarified her responses to their inquiries for 10 months, and the board is funding a formal investigation into the situation. The investigator has not returned his findings, so it’s premature to levy this accusation against the mayor.
11 - Whereas Mayor Jackie Warner has been counseled numerous times about such behavior as it misleads the public and is an abuse of her position.
Not true. This is another reference to Larson’s misguided belief that Warner colluded with executives of Lone Survivor Foundation. While Larson has attempted to counsel the mayor, it was an abuse of her position to do so.
Be it resolved that Mayor Jackie Warner knew about the time sensitive deadline of the Art in the Park agreement. Mayor Warner failed to immediately inform the town manager and never informed the Board, which contributed in part to the loss in art.
Not true. Warner knew about the time-sensitive deadline, as did the entire board. They were officially notified on two separate occasions — and it’s a matter of public record. She did immediately inform the town manager. This was established by the same commissioners who wrote the resolution when they provided the correspondence between the professor and staff members and the mayor.
Be it resolved that the Hope Mills town Board of Commissioners casts a vote of No Confidence in Mayor Jackie Warner and her ability to effectively work with the elected Board to serve in the capacity as mayor of Hope Mills.
It’s ironic that while the commissioners were drafting this resolution to embarrass the mayor, she was actively seeking a solution to the Art in the Park dilemma. And while they failed to prove any of their points, she succeeded in securing more art for our community.
Up & Coming Weekly staff have repeatedly reached out to the Board of Commissioners and extended open invitations for them to comment, respond, clarify or rebut anything we print in our publication. To date, no one has taken us up on that offer.
When Mitchell was asked to comment on a Hope Mills issue, he said he was “too busy.”
Larson, when asked to comment on a local Hope Mills community event, responded with “I don’t participate with the Up & Coming Weekly.”
I again extend the invitation to Commissioners Mitchell, Larson, Legge, Bellflowers, Edwards and Mayor Jackie Warner.
Just remember, at Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper, if you write it, you own it. That is why our name and photos are on every article.
Elizabeth Blevins and I thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.
Photo: Mayor Jackie Warner