02Jackie Warner 3No. That’s the consensus of most Hope Mills residents. They think not. And, there is a reason for that: It was their money the Hope Mills commissioners so recklessly spent on a frivolous investigation that netted the same conclusions Hopemills.net and Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper have been reporting for nearly four months.

Everything we reported and editorialized about, including Lone Survivor Foundation, alleged improprieties of Mayor Jackie Warner, art sculptures, the Hope Mills Lake bulkheads, Teddy Warner, the Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation, closed sessions — all of it has been proven and brought to a vindicated conclusion. Last Wednesday, May 29, was the day of reckoning when Hope Mills Commissioners Jerry Legge, Meg Larson, Jessie Bellflowers and Mike Mitchell received the results of an investigation they initiated to try and expose improprieties and wrongdoings by Warner.

They voted to hire a Raleigh law firm to conduct an impartial investigation for a whopping $26,000 of Hope Mills taxpayers’ money. Even more alarming and disappointing to the residents of Hope Mills is that they paid that exorbitant fee for information and verification that we, as a local media source, have been providing Hope Mills for free all along.

So, even with the $26,000 price tag and complete exoneration of any wrongdoing by Warner, the town of Hope Mills staff or Warner’s family members, the question remains: Is it over? Really over? Will Legge, Larson, Mitchell and Bellflowers relinquish their pursuit to discredit Warner, impede her progress and keep her from performing her duties and responsibilities as the mayor of Hope Mills? Will they focus their attention on cooperation and pursuits that will move Hope Mills forward?

I posed the question, “Is it over?” in writing to Larson, Mitchell and Bellflowers and asked them to respond with a statement of assurance. I let them know that once received, I would print their responses, verbatim, in this article or provide them their own space in Up & Coming Weekly to state their position.

As of June 2, only Bellflowers responded. Here is what he wrote:

“The findings of the investigation have been presented, and in my opinion, any further investigation(s) and all the finger pointing needs to end here. While I am sure not everyone agrees with the findings, the bottom line is there are no winners here! Should the LSF proposal been handled and presented in a more professional matter — you bet. Lessons learned. Going forward, we need to develop and approve effective protocols regarding the purchase/sale/ lease of any town-owned, municipal property areas. My hope is, perhaps ... just perhaps … we can ALL move on from this investigation and use our positive energy — collectively — to engage on completion of the most needed projects our community citizens expect and deserve from their Town Board and Staff leaders. Our citizens deserve no less!”

Our newspaper always strives to inform the Hope Mills community, providing news, insights and information they can trust and encouraging them to get involved in all those things that affect their business, family or quality of life.

We have covered the town’s elected officials for months, including conflicts over art sculptures, Lone Survivor Foundation and false allegations and charges against the mayor and her family. Our blanket coverage of this ordeal from start to finish is the near perfect example of why Bellflowers, Mitchell, Larson and Legge voted to cancel the Hope Mills Initiative with our newspaper. It had nothing to do with the $28,000 cost. It was about greed, selfishness and obsession with power. Knowledge and information are power.

They wanted to control the governing narrative by restricting media access to the citizens of Hope Mills — especially when it came to important issues. The objective was no transparency. They wanted to keep residents uninformed about town issues by limiting residents’ access to an independent media source they could not control. The board’s uncontained outrage, disdain and hostility toward Up & Coming Weekly came as a result of us not going away after they canceled our contract. It was unsettling to them that we continued to do our job of reporting the truth, advocating for the welfare of the citizens.

I will end with this suggestion for everyone in Hope Mills. You are a community of nearly 17,000 residents. That’s a 17,000-strong voting bloc. It’s much larger and much more influential than these distractors. Shut them down by ditching their negative propaganda on social media. Don’t tune in. That includes the Hope Mills Chatter. It also consists of the postings of the Hope Mills Bee and Hope Mills Outlook. Together, they represent only hundreds, not thousands, of Hope Mills residents — and therefore votes. Who cares what they say or print? They lack credibility. If they had any credibility, they would own their words and not hide behind anonymity.

The media is the natural enemy of those with intentions that are less than honorable. The previous board of Hope Mills commissioners understood this. This board, not so much.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly. We’re not going anywhere!

Photo: Jackie Warner

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