HOPE MILLS – With more than 18,000 town residents, you would have thought Town Hall would have been overflowing Monday night for a public hearing about changing two-year board of commissioners terms to staggered four-year terms.
So much for the thought.
Just one resident showed up to say she is against the idea that is supported by Mayor Pro Tem Kenjuana McCray and Commissioners Bryan Marley and Grilley Mitchell.
“We need more people to get out and take an interest,” said Sally Bailey, the longtime Hope Mills resident who told the board she is not so much against the idea as she is against the timing. Just not now, Bailey said, not with such complacency.
Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr. told the board the advantage to staggered, four-year terms allows for “consistency and continuity” in town projects.
“We need that vision,” Hartzog said, “for long-term projects, and never having a board coming in with no experience.”
There is merit in the town attorney’s words.
“It’s up to the board how you want to do it,” Hartzog told the commissioners, including Jerry Legge and Joanne Scarola, as well as Mayor Jackie Warner. But “you are not voting to extend your own terms,” but for the ensuing elected board.
Bailey wasn’t by herself in saying she is not in support of staggered four-year terms.
‘Allow we the people’
Lewis Oatman is against staggered four-year terms, too.
“With much disappointment and sadness that I have to take this opportunity to express that I am against the BOC’s vote to consider changing our town’s charter or ordinance to allow for each of you to have staggered terms in office,” Oatman wrote in an email that was read to the board by Jane Starling, the town clerk. “As was voiced by a vote of the citizens of the great community four years ago, ‘No’ to four-year terms of office for commissioners. … 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. I congratulate Commissioners Scarola and Legge for their decision to stand up and with the citizens of our community.”
If commissioners serve in the best interest of residents and the town, he wrote, residents will reelect them.
“If you are worried about how the people are electing our town government, then maybe you should be considering a new line of work,” Oatman wrote. “Remember that you each made campaign promises to the people of this town, and we will be holding each of you accountable for your actions. In action and your decisions you each make on behalf of the citizens. We elect our representatives to serve the overall best interest of our citizens and our community. We are not your subjects to be ruled and dictated to by our elected representatives. Last time I checked, we are still living in a democracy; not living under a monarchy.”
If you vote Monday, Oatman wrote, vote no to give the residents the option of change.
“I ask that my voice be heard and the voices of my family members to be heard as well as recorded in the meeting minutes as a strong vote against this decision to change the town ordinance in terms of service by the elected representatives making this decision to rule the town citizens and our community,” wrote Oatman, a retired Air Force veteran who said he could not attend Monday’s public hearing because of poor health. “The decision must and should be respected and allow we the people whom you were elected to serve to decide on this matter at the ballot box. I hope that you will all take the high ground and stand by the citizens of this community and not vote to rule over us.”
While the mayor pro tem and Commissioners Mitchell and Marley were mum, Oatman’s plea did not fall on deaf ears of Legge and Scarola.
“This was put before us four years ago, and it overwhelmingly was voted down,” Legge said. “I suggest we go the way we’re going with two-year terms.”
Scarola would agree with Legge, although calling a change to staggered four-year terms a sword that cuts both ways. And the commissioner said it well.
“If you have a good board,” Scarola said, “it will be a great board.”
A bad board with four years, she said, and ugh.
“I am totally on the citizens’ side,” Scarola said. “I’m not going to take away the voice of the people.”
Joanne Scarola and Jerry Legge are commissioners in Hope Mills who get it. The decision is not with current elected officials, they say. The decision is up to town residents.
Mayor Jackie Warner said the vote will be placed on the agenda at the March 6 board meeting.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961.