HOPE MILLS — Three town commissioners took an apparent about-face Monday, joining with Commissioners Jerry Legge and Joanne Scarola in deciding not to pursue changing the terms of town officials from two-year to staggered four-year terms for future elected boards.
“The people voted this down one time,” Legge, a veteran commissioner for 23 years, told his colleagues before moving not to pursue a vote.
He had support from Mayor Pro Tem Kenjuana McCray and Grilley Mitchell before the motion.
“Remember, you are our voice,” Mitchell said at the outset of Monday’s meeting. “Like the old saying, ‘A closed mouth does not get heard.’ The people have spoken, but I do hope one day we will.”
Mitchell joined with McCray and Marley on Jan. 9 in voting to bring the matter before the board for a public hearing that was held Feb. 20. Two residents spoke in opposition to changing the commissioners’ and mayor’s terms.
McCray admonished a CityView reporter Monday before the vote.
“We were elected by the people,” the mayor pro tem said about previous reports in CityView. McCray said she resented the implication that “I’m trying to take the voice away from the people. I take great offense.”
She later added: “I believe now is not the time” to alter board member terms.
Mum was the word
McCray wasn’t saying that two weeks ago. Neither was Mitchell. Neither was Marley. They had nothing to say.
Legge and Scarola were doing the talking.
“This was put before us four years ago, and it overwhelmingly was voted down,” Legge said on Feb. 20. “I suggest we go the way we’re going with two-year terms.”
And just to refresh your memory, that charter amendment referendum vote by town residents in November 2018 was clear, with 2,618, or 57.04%, voting to keep two-year terms, according to the Cumberland County Board of Elections. Another 1,972 residents, or 42.96%, voting for four-year terms.
And Scarola said that evening she would leave the decision to Hope Mills residents.
“I am totally on the citizens’ side,” said Scarola, a commissioner who isn’t shy about speaking out, speaking up and letting residents know where she stands no matter the issue. “I’m not going to take away the voice of the people.”
Only Sally Bailey appeared on Feb. 20 to oppose any effort to change the terms of commissioners and the mayor, and Lewis Oatman wrote a letter to the board that was read by Town Clerk Jane Starling.
“I am really troubled by the fact that only two of our commissioners are willing to let the people decide whether to allow this matter,” Oatman said in an email. “I congratulate Commissioners Scarola and Legge for their decision to stand up and with the citizens of our community. If you are worried about how the people are electing our town government, then maybe you should be considering a new line of work.”
Before I get back to the mayor pro tem’s Monday evening scolding, if you will, some context here as per Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr., who told the board two weeks ago that four-year staggered terms can be an advantage for the board and the town in dealing with consistency and continuity related to long-term town projects.
It's a reasonable argument, and an argument worthy of consideration.
As for you, mayor pro tem, no offense taken at your admonishment.
This isn’t my first rodeo covering Hope Mills government. You were in high school when I was covering Hope Mills commissioners as far back as 1995 with commissioners to include the late John Henley, the late William “Bill” Luther, the late E.A “Pete” Warner, the late Ed Herring, the late Al Brafford and the late Mayor Edwin Deaver. They stood tall for the residents of Hope Mills.
The bottom line here is that Hope Mills commissioners voted with unanimity and prudence Monday in not taking this decision away from Hope Mills residents, the very people who elected them to serve. And that is a sound decision and sound governance, and John Henley, Bill Luther, Pete Warner, Ed Herring, Al Brafford and Edwin Deaver would be saying so, too.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.