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Board puts off discussion of prayer at town meetings

Topic is taken off Monday night’s agenda at start of meeting


SPRING LAKE - The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen on Monday night put off discussion about prayer at town meetings, voting instead to remove the topic from the meeting agenda.

Monday’s agenda had included an item to discuss the proposed removal of the “invocation and Pledge of Allegiance” from the agenda. It was listed under an item called discussion to amend proposed agenda outline.

Mayor Kia Anthony said earlier Monday that the way the invocation is currently done, the town is in violation of the Constitution.

As the meeting started, the board voted to remove the proposed item from the agenda.

Members of the Spring Lake Ministerial Alliance were in the audience ready to voice their concerns. SLMA member Pastor Vernon Marsh of Red Cross Tabernacle of Praise at 1120 N. Bragg Blvd. in Spring Lake said the organization had not been approached about the topic. Their members heard about the proposal Monday morning.

“Our presence has always been a part of events in Spring Lake whether it be the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast or the Veterans’ Day ceremony,” Marsh said. “There is a way that we can conduct and do things as a community and do it efficiently, but to revoke or remove prayer from the town meetings without discussion … it would have been nice to be approached at least as a courtesy.”

The pastors said they felt they needed to be at the meeting Monday night to be represented.

The Rev. Jeffery Saffold from the Manna Life Center Ministries at 671 W. Manchester Road said he worked 10-hour days, but when he got the call about the meeting, there was no way he couldn’t be here.

“We pray for our chief of police, our police officers, our first responders, for our firefighters, for town hall staff members, for the Board of Aldermen,’’ Safford said. “This is not a selfish act. Prayer is a foundation.” 

Another SLMA member, Pastor Steven Morris from Living Water Assembly of God at 2040 N. Bragg Blvd., said the issue bothers them as church leaders because it comes down to a standard.

“If you are looking for justice and things to be done right, whose standard are you going to do it on. If you kick God out, you kick out the standard of good,” Morris said. “How can you do good things for others if you don’t have the standard of goodness?”

The members of the ministerial alliance said they were talking further to possibly get their congregations involved in a future discussion.

The Fayetteville City Council, the county Board of Commissioners and the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners all have an invocation at the start of their meetings. Hope Mills said it works with a local pastors’ group, and if someone is not available a town board member will give the prayer. The county and the city schedule each year for someone to deliver the invocation, but with COVID they have not brought guests into the meetings.

Fayetteville has three pastors on the council who have taken turns to say the prayer, Jennifer Ayre, the deputy city clerk, said.  

Also Monday, Anthony recognized Women’s History Month and appointed Alderman Raul Palacios and Alderwoman Sona Cooper to serve on the town audit committee.

Cooper had wanted to discuss lifting furloughs for town staff; however, the board did not have the budget numbers beforehand or at the meeting to determine if they could move forward.

“I hope we can do this when the new budget comes in place,” Cooper said.

The 5% furlough reduced pay for general fund employees and the Board of Aldermen. It also reduced staff hours, with the exception of police and fire, from a 40-hour workweek to a 38-hour workweek, closing town hall on Fridays.

The board went into closed session for personnel and adjourned immediately after coming back to open session with no further action taken.

Joe Durham with Joe Durham and Associates, a management consulting service, joined the board in the closed session.

Durham said Friday that a contract between the town and his agency to look for a permanent town manager had been signed last week. He said interviews for a new manager were beginning although the search was in the early stages.

Interim Town Manager Samantha Wullenwaber, who was not at Monday night’s meeting, said Friday that her contract between the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments and the town for interim town manager services will end April 3. The move came “due to workload and capacity,” she said.

Wullenwaber has worked on a part-time contract basis as the deputy finance officer, interim town manager and budget officer for the town since Dec. 3 while also serving as the director of Local Government Services for the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments. Before her part-time contract, Wullenwaber had been the interim town manager since last March and had worked with the Local Government Commission since October when the town went under its financial control.

“The work on the budget has already began and David Erwin, the finance director, will be carrying the budget through,” Wullenwaber said. “Spring Lake has been through a lot, but we’ve made some positive strides.”

Town department budget meetings are expected to continue through the end of March and a budget retreat will tentatively take place in May.

Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at jmclaughlin@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, prayer