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Board members discuss outcome of U.S. Supreme Court free speech ruling

Hope Mills was cited as example in brief on public officials’ violations of First Amendment on social media


During Monday’s board meeting, Hope Mills commissioners discussed the outcome of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on public officials’ free speech rights — with a connection to Hope Mills. 

Commissioners also approved the town to move forward with the relocation of the town’s tennis courts and to adopt a new street maintenance policy. Here’s what else happened Monday:

U.S. Supreme Court case

  • What happened: Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr. provided an update to the board about the U.S. Supreme Court’s March 15 ruling on the Lindke v. Freed case. The case revolves around a local Michigan resident who argued that the Michigan city manager had violated the First Amendment by deleting and blocking his comments that contained criticisms on the city manager’s Facebook page. Hope Mills was cited as one example in an amicus brief filed along with the case in June 2023. The brief referenced former Mayor Jackie Warner’s January 2023 settlement with former Commissioner Meg Larson. The lawsuit mentioned in the brief alleged that Warner had violated public records law by blocking and deleting comments from people who criticized the town on her personal Facebook page.
  • Why it matters: The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling created a new test that determines when government officials can be sued for First Amendment violations. If the official is acting with “actual authority” to speak on their government’s behalf and uses that authority when speaking on social media, they are subject to the First Amendment.
  • What’s next: The main recommendation from Hartzog is for Hope Mills commissioners to make it clear when they have a personal social media account versus an official account. The official account should not block people or delete comments, Hartzog said.
  • McCray said she has a mixed-use account. Hartzog recommended that in those cases, officials should share from an official town account and refrain from giving statements from the standpoint of a board member. 

Golfview Greenway tennis and pickleball courts

  • What happened: The board unanimously approved moving forward with the design and relocation of the tennis courts and pickleball courts to the Golfview Greenway.
  • Why it matters: The town’s tennis courts are in poor condition due to cracks in the ground, according to Lamarco Morrison, the town’s parks and recreation director. Mayor Jessie Bellflowers said it would cost the town $60,000 to fix the courts. Morrison also told the board Monday evening that utilities and restrooms will be required at the new site.
  • What’s next: The board will reallocate $467,880 in ARPA funds toward the design and development plans. The board also approved a budget amendment of $467,900 in order to set up an account for the relocation/construction project.

Street acceptance policy

  • What happened: The board unanimously approved a new Street Acceptance Policy.
  • Why it matters: This policy allows property owners to petition the board to have the town maintain privately owned streets.
  • What’s next: The policy will go into effect right away.

Historic Committee requests to be turned back to a commission

  • What happened: The Historic Preservation Committee requested to be turned back into a Historic Preservation Commission. The board tabled the vote until the April 15 meeting.
  • Why it matters: The Historic Committee Chairwoman Sharon Reeves said being a commission would help them receive certifications that would open them to grants and state funding. According to the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, a commission can recommend to the town board local properties to be designated as historic districts and landmarks. The commission can also review “applications from owners of designated landmarks and structures in historic districts who plan to make changes to their properties.” 
  • There are five members on the committee now. The commission requires seven members. Mayor Pro Tem Kenjuana McCray and Commissioner Bryan Marley said the previous board voted against this two years ago, as per the town manager’s recommendation at the time.
  • What’s next: Marley, the liaison to the Historic Preservation Committee, said he would like to seek more information on the issue, since the topic was a last-minute addition to the agenda. The only other local historic commission is the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission, which is a Certified Local Government Program commission.

Town manager report

  • What happened: In an update to the board, Town Manager Chancer McLaughlin reported that the town is working on securing a $85,917 grant to help the Hope Mills Fire Department buy equipment. The town is also looking at the Firehouse Subs Grant to get bulletproof vests and body cameras for the fire department.

Other business

Commissioners reappointed Cynthia Hamilton and Marriane McLean to the Board of Adjustment, both for two-year terms. The board of commissioners also unanimously voted to remove Adrian Madsen, Denise Melton and Jim Morris from the Veterans Affairs Committee. Commissioner Joanne Scarola said these members did not attend meetings, and they did not communicate with the committee after several attempts. Scarola noted that Morris had expressed that he wanted to resign, but never submitted his official resignation.

The board went into closed session for almost 30 minutes regarding attorney-client privilege and personnel matters.

The board will next meet at 7 p.m. on April 15 in the Bill Luther Board Room at Town Hall.

Contact Hannah Lee at hannahleenews@gmail.com.

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