02 Colvins building If I were a property owner or downtown Fayetteville business, I would be looking at the members of the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission with one eye closed saying, “What the hell were they thinking?” after voting 6-1 to allow Mayor Mitch Colvin several unapproved changes to his downtown building that violated the commissioners’ Certificate of Appropriateness guidelines.

Colvin’s building is the old Kress building. He painted the building and added glass and aluminum doors to it.

Eight responsible Fayetteville citizens were charged with overseeing policies designed to establish and maintain the dignity and historic integrity of our downtown community. Then they spinelessly acquiesced with authoritative objections as meaningless, ineffective and ferocious as a collective pack of paper tigers. The unintended consequence of this action is heard loud and clear by all downtown property owners: Mea culpa is an acceptable strategic tactic to get things accomplished downtown since COA violations have no consequences. No fines, no sanctions, no reprimands or penalties. Out of the eight — only one responsible, policymaking, law-abiding, honest, Fayetteville citizen with integrity took their responsibility as a board member seriously and had the backbone to ward off the threats and intimidation of those who perceive themselves above the law. That is downtown businessman Bruce Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee shop. Even with his sense of responsibility, he is that lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to demonstrating a leadership style that reflects doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was Arnold who pointed out that Colvin violated the COA and gamed the system by making unauthorized changes to his building. Sadly, even after acknowledging and condemning the violations, the FHRC board voted to approve the changes 6-1 with Henry Tyson abstaining because of a compromising conflict of interest.

Even with this dubious victory tucked securely under his belt, Colvin took to social media to continue his undignified attack on Arnold by doubling-down and playing the race card. No doubt to draw attention away from his misdeed by garnering sympathy from his supporters — without any regard to the fact he is dividing our community. This is not leadership. However, it is a near-perfect example of why Fayetteville struggles to project a positive image and gain respect among statewide peers and why it’s difficult to attract industry to our community. But, there is something even more troubling here. Colvin is only one person cashing in on his authority and privilege. Bruce Arnold is only one person trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.

 Troubling is the fact that seven Fayetteville residents serving in leadership positions on the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission (Thomas Batson, Jeremy Fiebig, Gordon Johnson, Tiffany Ketchum, George Turner, Henry Tyson, Liz Vernadoe), collectively not only recognized, identified and acknowledged Colvin’s violations and wrongdoing, but they refused to take the appropriate action. Their refusal left one of their own FHRC board members, who followed the rules, enforced the policies and executed the FHRC’s responsibilities, out in the cold to absorb the full wrath of the mayor all by himself. That’s a significant betrayal of trust and dereliction of responsibility.
Sure, we assume we know what the commissioners were thinking when the vote was taken: “Too late now. The work is already done.” True as that may be, the question remains: Why are they serving on the board in the first place? And, what about the future? How is this commission going to handle the next set of COA

Something else is disturbing about this situation. Before Bill Kirby’s comments appeared in Saturday’s Feb. 1 edition of The Fayetteville Observer’s article “You are right, Mr. Turner; vote doesn’t look good,” many people had already expressed the same sentiments as Kirby. Social media and blogs exploded and were having a field day with the FHRC decision and the resulting 6-1 vote, saying it was shortsighted and ill-conceived. Kirby’s observations and analysis were right on point, but after the fact. In the weeks before the vote, The Fayetteville Observer could have and should have assigned a reporter to this story, talked with the mayor about the situation and interviewed downtown residents, businesses and property owners from the downtown historic district as well as individual FHRC commission members.

This style of investigative reporting is the purest form of journalism, yet, it didn’t happen. Why? I suspect it would have caused a public outcry, resulting in the mayor having to comply with the COA. Or maybe that it would put some of the FHRC members at odds with the mayor or any of the building’s “unnamed” partners. Transparency and a little objective reporting just might have stirred up public sentiment, which would have provided the information and confidence that the FHRC board needed to face the violation head-on. Unfortunately, it’s too late now, and the virtual can has been kicked way down Hay St. Bad decisions always have consequences. You can bet you will see that can again in the near future.

In marketing, your brand — whether personal or business — is defined by a combination of who you are, what you are and what you stand for. I’ll be surprised if the stigma of this poor decision doesn’t cause at least a few, if not all, of the FHRC members’ resignations. No one enjoys being used or publicly compromised. This case could be the poster child for both. We’ll see.

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