01The Hope Mills political scene is in a state of disarray. Especially with regards to the mayor’s race. It is a near-perfect example of how the threads of selfishness, greed, hypocrisy and personal agendas have become commonplace and interwoven into every aspect of local politics.

Hope Mills is one of the most desired and habitable communities in Cumberland County. It is recognized as progressive and one of the fastest growing towns in the state. This growth is a product of past decades of competent, responsible and dedicated leadership.

Yet, regardless of the town's achievements, accomplishments and successes, there are always a few (a very few) disgruntled individuals who insist on placing their personal agendas ahead of the constituents they are supposed to be serving. With the advent of social media, these ill-spirited individuals want to have prominent voices in the future and direction of the Hope Mills community, but without the commitment and responsibility of management that goes along with it.

Full disclosure, I am passionate about the Hope Mills community. I was a friend and admirer of former seven-term Hope Mills Mayor Edwin Deaver, who passed away in 2016. He was a good friend and a one-of-a-kind character. He graciously loved serving Hope Mills and its citizens. His impact on the town was positive in nature and gentle with a spirited touch of homegrown enthusiasm that can still be felt on Trade Street today. Former Mayor Eddie Dees likewise contributed to the Hope Mills quality of life by keeping the welfare of the residents his highest priority.

Again, full disclosure, I am a Mayor Jackie Warner supporter. From the start of her tenure, with the help and guidance of a competent board and staff I watched her build and expand on the foundation built by Deaver and Dees. Together, working in cooperation with each other they took Hope Mills to an elevated level of respectability and prestige, both culturally and economically.

So, one might ask, why all the negativity? And, what can be so bad in a community recognized for being so good? The answer to both is nothing at all.

What makes it even more interesting and concerning is that the two primary individuals responsible for the negativity are former Hope Mills Commissioner Meg Lawson and current Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers. Both of whom were active in the town's prosperity and growth over several years, working closely with the Mayor, who, by the way, has no voting power or sole jurisdiction over decisions directly affecting the town. Yet these two are leading a cabal of negative criticism against Warner, whose leadership has led the town to statewide recognition and prosperity.

The next question should be why would they do this? The answer, for personal power and control. Neither Bellflowers or Lawson bring anything to the table that contributes to quality of life in Hope Mills that is not already present; thus, their strategies and platforms all hinge on slander, character assassination and false or misleading information attempting to diminish the accomplishments of Warner. A Herculean task at best.

This brings me to the most concerning and dangerous aspects of this situation. One of the very first actions Lawson took in her role as a Hope Mills Commissioner was to team up with Bellflowers to cancel a media contract with Up & Coming Weekly. The purpose of the contract was to assist in the creation of a community newspaper for the town of Hope Mills. This partnership with Up & Coming Weekly would have provided the mayor and all Hope Mills governmental departments with a weekly communication with residents, businesses and organizations. A local community newspaper would have been a win-win situation for all concerned. Finally, Hope Mills had devised a plan for a media voice for the sole purpose of informing citizens on town-related news while promoting local businesses and economic development. The Hope Mills commissioners unanimously agreed that the town needed a newspaper and voted likewise. However, Bellflowers, Larson, and their small cabal pursued actions that would stifle free press, free speech and free expression. Not only did they vote to cancel the Up & Coming Weekly contract, but they failed to bring forward any alternative media options or newspaper prospects to fill the void. The newspaper project should have been valued at a quarter of a million dollars yearly. The town’s actual investment? $28,000. It should concern every citizen in Hope Mills that Bellflowers is challenging Warner for the Mayor's seat when he and his like-minded supporters do not support or advocate for local media, transparency in government or free speech. Most recently, Larson submitted a Public Records Request to the town of Hope Mills for all e-mail correspondence between the Up & Coming Weekly newspaper and Mayor Warner and Commissioners Bryan A. Marley, Pat Edwards, and Kenjuana McCray. Why? What are they looking for? Anything that they can use to discredit the mayor and anyone in support of the town creating a community newspaper. After 25 years of publishing, I can assure you they will be vastly disappointed.

My message to all Hope Mills residents is to beware of anyone in opposition to the free press or government transparency.

Hope Mills is not located in Russia or China. In America, local communities embrace the U. S. Constitution and our First Amendment rights. Hope Mills residents and voters need to be very cautious and skeptical of people, especially elected officials, who do not support a local free press.

As a final thought, if you have, or even if you have not, read the most recent Fayetteville Observer article with questions and answers from the two candidates, I suggest you turn to pages nine through ten in this edition of Up and Coming Weekly. Please take a moment to read a unedited, even-keeled comparison of how the two candidates stack up against one another in their own words prior to voting on Nov. 2.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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