The report at the May 29 Hope Mills Board of Commissioners meeting was a learning experience for all of us. We learned about legal, ethical and procedural dilemmas and how some might have been handled differently.
The independent investigator commissioned by the town of Hope Mills to investigate ethical misconduct and inappropriate protocols related to the town’s dealings with Lone Survivor Foundation found no ethical or illegal actions on the part of any of the parties involved. He did, however, find a procedural error in the presentation of the proposal to the Board of Commissioners. The presence of the nonprofit organization — LSF — at the closed meeting, where the possible lease/ purchase of “Lakebed #2” was discussed, appeared to throw off the decision-making process of the board members, giving them little or no time to digest the importance of what was being offered in terms of an economic opportunity to the town of Hope Mills. Nor were they up to date about the implications of future uses of the lakebed, which had been dried up and abandoned since at least the 1970s.
It sounded great at first: a national nonprofit organization providing therapy to veterans and their families on an abandoned and forgotten town property, Lakebed #2. What once was an enthusiastic response from the staff members involved in the initial meetings with Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation and LSF soon dwindled amongst the Hope Mills board members as they questioned other possibilities for the lakebed. They felt as if they were being backed into a corner. It appeared that some of them had assumed that Lakebed #2 was being studied by the McAdams Company for the future Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Plan for the town of Hope Mills because it was shown as “parkland” in the Southwest Land Use Plan.
However, at the Oct. 1, 2018, special meeting, according to the minutes, Principal Landscape Architect Rachel Cotter, representing the McAdams Company with some of its initial community responses to its study, surprisingly had not included the lakebed in its plan for recreational development because it was still shown as “other Town-owned properties...” As it had never been “...dedicated for use and a developed master plan adopted for those properties there isn’t a basis for including it under the umbrella of parks and recreation.”
So, here we are — almost four months after the board rejected the offer at a closed meeting — just now finding out that there would be no projected parks and recreation use for the lakebed in its Comprehensive Plan.
Isn’t that one of the main reasons stated by the board for not accepting the offer? Because they wanted to wait for the results of this plan? And the possible use of the lake as a reservoir?
The working tour of some of the town properties, including the lakebed, was shown in the same minutes to be scheduled for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.
Now the lakebed is being talked about, but was it for the last 40 some-odd years?
So, what have we learned from this $26,000-plus investigation and its results? We are not perfect. The board, the mayor and the staff are not perfect. We all have flaws. We all can do better. As a result of questions about the initial closed session meeting, now Hope Mills videotapes them, like they once did. I would hope that express verbal agreements might be transformed into express written agreements to avoid future questions of misconduct.
Never having been presented with a prospective purchase or lease from the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation in the past, our town now knows the protocols for handling it right the next time, and Hope Mills Mayor pro tem Mike Mitchell acknowledged that another transaction has already taken place, without questions or accusations of improprieties or misconduct.
We all must learn from these costly mistakes.
The greatest lesson is to be inclusive, not divisive. We have too much of that in Washington, D.C., now. We need to set an example of working together, not pulling each other apart. The mayor and board were elected to represent the town of Hope Mills and its citizens. Back-stabbing and talking behind someone’s back can accomplish nothing, except to divide. They must realize that each of them has a heart and has the best intentions for this town and that they must learn to work together as a team, utilizing the best talents in each of them and improving the suspicious nature that led to this investigation and to the recent “lack of confidence vote” in the mayor. Commissioners, you are also not perfect.
Not only did we spend more than $26,000 for the investigation, but we lost a golden opportunity to transform an all-but-forgotten lakebed into muchneeded economic development for our town. We not only had a “bird in the hand” and lost it, but we may have also lost “the two in the bush,” while waiting for the magic solution for Lakebed #2.