Members of the Spring Lake Board of Aldermen discussed changing their titles from “alderman” to “commissioner” and extending terms of office from two years to four years at the regularly scheduled work session Monday night.
The meeting opened with the introduction of a new work session format for the board to make it more discussion-friendly than the format of normal board meetings. Town business will still be conducted at these meetings.
The most notable change for the work session was moving the board down from its normal seating configuration to a U-shaped conference table on the boardroom floor, with a single microphone in front of Mayor Kia Anthony.
What happened: Anthony introduced a proposal for a new work session format eliminating public comment, individual board updates and presentations from the board agenda.
Why it matters: Town staff said the board is required to allow a public comment segment once per month. The board decided to keep public comment to keep the community engaged. Anthony said the new meeting format will allow the board to conduct business in front of the public but will allow the board to speak freely in a less formal setting.
“There will be no back door dealings in Spring Lake,” Anthony said.
What’s next: The board will vote on a new format at its next regularly scheduled meeting in January
Election cycle, longer terms and change in titles
One of the most notable changes the board has made in several years was deciding to change the Spring Lake Town Charter to extend terms and the style of the governing body. Extended terms have been proposed by previous board members, but it has never moved past discussion. The board decided Monday to move forward by consensus to extend terms of office to four years and change board titles.
What happened: Alderman Raul Palacios introduced an idea to change Spring Lake elections to even-numbered years, instead of odd ones, in order to boost voter turnout. He said that over 40 towns in North Carolina had previously made the change and that it could result in a reduction in the cost of elections of between $3,000 to $5,000. Palacios also asked that terms of office be extended from two years to four years, though not retroactively. He also asked the board to consider changing their titles from ”alderman” to ”commissioner.”
Alderwoman Sona Cooper said she didn’t think citizens would like the idea of changing the elections to even years because the municipal election cycle would then overlap with national, state and judicial elections, potentially making it more challenging to get the word out about town races.
The board discussed making a more concerted effort to increase voter turnout through the work of voting advocacy groups and outside organizations such as Rock the Vote.
In regard to extending terms of office to four years, Anthony said she was excited for the issue to be addressed, noting the difficulty in campaigning while also being in office and facing a two-year term. Anthony said town government runs slowly and she’d like to see board members serve four-year terms in order for more continuity to see projects through to fruition. The town has also been without a permanent town manager since the departure of Daniel Gerald, who was fired twice in the role.
Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick said she opposed longer terms because she believes the town needs fresh ideas that might come from shorter terms in office. She said that the longer terms would not allow possible needed changes.
The entire board agreed to change their titles from "alderman” to ”commissioner,” stating it was more progressive and gender-neutral.
Why it matters: Voter turnout at the last election was less than 10% of registered voters. Changing the terms of office and the titles of the board members would require amending the town charter.
What’s next: The board will vote at its next regularly scheduled meeting on extending terms of service to four years and changing titles from ”aldermen” to "commissioners.” The next steps are asking town staff to move forward with drafting the changes and seeking input from citizens. The town charter can be changed by petitioning the state or by adding to the ballot in two years.
Draft rules of procedure
What happened: In June 2020, the board directed the town clerk to draft Rules of Procedure. Town Clerk Carly Autry drafted this month the framework for conducting meetings, making decisions and making motions to enter into closed session.
Why it matters: This document was created to promote transparency, efficiency, public participation and accountability. Aldermen included changes such as adding an agenda for aldermen to review prior to closed sessions.
What’s next: The town clerk will make recommended changes and will bring the proposal to the board on Jan. 8.
“This written policy helps anyone step in,” Palacios said.
IN OTHER DISCUSSION:
Monthly financial updates
What happened: Anthony said a representative from the Local Government Commission (LGC) was not available to attend the meeting and that the delivery of monthly reports had stagnated since Kendra Boyle was appointed finance officer on Sept. 12. The town has not been receiving reports in a consistent manner since David Erwin, who was the LGC’s assigned representative for Spring Lake, retired.
Why it matters: The LGC has hinted that Spring Lake might be released from state financial control this year. Anthony said the town could possibly have contracted financial staff such as Debra Mack discuss summary updates during work sessions instead of formal presentations from the LGC.
What’s next: Anthony said the LGC is preparing for the town’s exit strategy. The board asked for monthly updates prior to board meetings and Alderman Marvin Lackman asked for past years to be included for comparison and benchmarking.
Capital Project – Spring Lake Veteran's Park
What happened: Interim Town Manager Jason Williams, who also serves as the town’s fire chief, introduced the Spring Lake Veteran’s Park improvement plan and asked the board for feedback on providing repairs and improvements to the park. The town has $110,000 to implement the plan, which includes upgrading lighting, putting in an irrigation system, sodding the entire area and adding other elements like benches, trash cans and possibly a small gazebo.
Why it matters: Anthony said that the board was receiving the fund appropriations to further prepare the board for the town to be released from financial control.
“They are showing us the process,” Anthony said.
What’s next: This is a precursor for the LGC reverting financial control of the town, according to Anthony. The public will be invited to a community stakeholder meeting in December where input will be sought on park improvements.
Capital Project – Cumberland County Recreation District
What happened: Williams introduced the plan, which has already been approved by the Local Government Commission, and asked for feedback from the board.
Why it matters: The board received timelines for the park renovations, among the first updates that the board has received regarding overall park improvements. Anthony said Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks and Recreation are using the $200,000 earmarked but have budgeted to renovate and install new playground equipment in Spring Lake parks as well as the Mutzberg Trails. The recreation department is looking for additional funds for the trails project.
Anthony also added that if the town started to move equipment and it turned out not to be usable whether the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks and Recreation would replace the equipment.
“This was a great merger. This is going to take off and make a difference,” Williams said, “They are going above and beyond to make these parks places where our kids can go.”
Palacios said the town had previously received a list of repairs that had been done, calling it a huge benefit to the town financially.
“It’s slow, the government is slow, but we are starting to see the benefits,” Palacios said.
What’s next: New park equipment should be installed by June 2024.
2023-2025 Budget Appropriations
What happened: Anthony said Spring Lake asked for more than it received, but were pleased with the allotted amount from the state. The town received $250,000 for a new computer system and $400,000 for a gas line extension and related capital improvements or equipment at parks.
Why it matters: A new gas line extension will help attract new business. The town is working on the Mutzberg Trails, which includes 39 acres for scenic hiking and recreation.
What’s next: The board will adopt the funds via a resolution at their next regular meeting.
Discussion of 'When People Work'
What happened: The board heard a presentation from Sherrod Knox, CEO of When People Work (WPW) and government relations liaison, at its Nov. 13 meeting. The group focuses on assisting justice-impacted citizens and veterans re-enter society and move beyond obstacles such as criminal records or challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. The program is working in four counties in North Carolina, including Wake, Wilson, Edgecombe and Pitt, and hopes to expand to Cumberland County. The board had agreed to further discuss the program at Monday night’s meeting.
Why it matters: Anthony introduced ideas such as service dogs in connection with a possible new dog park in Spring Lake, veteran homes with Habitat for Humanity, substance abuse programs for veterans and their families and veteran spouse programs.
What’s next: Projects would need to be determined and finalized, Knox said. The payment structure would then be determined by the nature of the project and would be negotiated. Anthony suggested the town’s Military and Veterans Advisory Committee proceed with a survey for the public.
Discussion of Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity
What happened: During the board's Nov. 13 meeting, the Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity proposed two neighborhoods, located behind the town’s municipal building and adjoining fire station, for adults ages 55 and over and veterans. The town agreed to discuss the proposal at the Nov. 27 work session.
Why it matters: Anthony announced that a different plot of land had been identified since the last meeting although the stakeholder had not been notified. She said she showed Habitat CEO Brandon Price and staff the possible land earlier on Monday. Price asked the town to purchase the land and sell it back to Habitat at a reduced cost, or gift Habitat the land.
“In a perfect world, this stakeholder would sell at a nominal fee to Habitat for Humanity,” Anthony said.
Anthony said the town could provide an incentive to the stakeholder if they would sell at a lower rate or gift it. She said the lifespan of a tiny home was 25-30 years, which is twice the lifespan of a mobile home, and that she feels the community would help provide housing to senior citizens and veteran residents.
What’s next: Habitat staff is looking at other possible sites for the senior-living and veteran neighborhoods made up of tiny houses and duplexes.
The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen will hold its swearing-in ceremony at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the Grady Howard Conference Room of the Spring Lake municipal complex.