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Spring Lake alderman pushes for release of closed-session meeting minutes

Raul Palacios says economic development discussions should be open for review


SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen voted to table unsealing nine sets of closed-session meeting minutes on Monday night.

The minutes range from March 25, 2019, to April 12, 2021, and deal with economic development projects that Alderman Raul Palacios says should be open to the public.

Before the meeting, Palacios said he disagrees with Town Attorney Michael Porter on certain points that he did not specify and that he expected the board to table the meeting minutes until after a closed session at the end of Monday’s meeting.

Palacious asked at the beginning of the meeting that the consent agenda be considered at the end of the meeting after the closed session. The motion was passed unanimously.

The issue was on the agenda for the board meeting last month, but a vote was postponed until Monday.

“The attorney had not reviewed them last month, so they were pulled,” Palacious said. “All economic development closed sessions were in the last five years, so I’m hopeful they will be released.”

After a brief presentation about an upcoming local event and approving mission and vision statements for the town, the board went into closed session for 45 minutes, citing attorney-client privilege and personnel matters. When the board returned to open session, Palacios moved that it approve one set of minutes for an Aug. 28 meeting and table consideration of nine closed-session minutes.

He then made a statement about the closed session minutes.

“Because of ongoing conversations with the public over the last three years, and in an effort to mitigate misinformation being spread in our community, I’m asking for the immediate release of all closed session minutes regarding economic development over the last five years, to give the opportunity for public inspection,” Palacious said. “I’m sure this will raise questions among our citizens, but I want to reassure the public that when the purpose of the town board going into closed session is no longer relevant, and when the release of the information would no longer frustrate the purpose of that closed session, the minutes should be released.

“I’ll be asking the board to develop a policy to release closed-session minutes appropriately so that our citizens continue to see transparency,” he continued. “Certain information must remain redacted and certain matters will remain confidential. But given the rise of questions I’ve received about our town’s past, I find no fault in allowing the public access to this information.”

Palacios linked his call for transparency to a former economic development director.

“One of the largest dollar amounts this town had wasted came through a public scheme called economic development in which a certain individual the town had deemed its economic development drector had access to unlimited funds in hopes of enticing businesses to come to Spring Lake,” he said. “All of the money was spent, but none of the promises came through. I keep a personal note in my wallet of all the ‘projects’ the town was supposed to receive with this money.”

The nine projects that Palacios referenced had names like Project Candyland, which referred to a gourmet popcorn company; Project Ironman, a movie theater; and Project Wildcat, a land swap deal with Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty.

“These names may be humorous, but I don’t mean to be flippant about this endeavor. Because of poor record-keeping, our citizens will never know how much we actually lost on these endeavors over the last five years,” Palacios said. “The intent of requesting the release of these closed-session items is not to drudge up the past but to put certain rumors and speculation to rest.”

Other business

In other action, the board announced the following:

  • Cops on Top: Police officers will sit on top of the Walmart building on N.C. 210 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 15 in hopes of raising $1,000 for Special Olympics.
  • A fall cleanup campaign from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 16. The town will collect electronic waste, tires and bulk waste. The Police Department will collect old and expired medications. The Fire Department will collect aluminum cans to benefit burned children.
  • Pink Dymons 5K Cancer Walk and community festival, beginning at 9 a.m. Sept. 30 at Spring Lake Recreation Center.
  • First Friday on Main, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 6 on Main Street.
  • Spring Lake Matters Cleanup, 8 a.m. Oct. 7. Volunteers will meet at Southwinds Shopping Center. The group has collected more than 3,000 pounds of trash this year.
  • Veterans Service Day, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at Spring Lake Recreation Center. Veterans can get assistance with Veteran Affairs claims, burial/interment options at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery and other issues.

The next meeting of the Board of Aldermen will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Grady Howard conference room of the Spring Lake municipal complex.

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Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, secret meetings, economic development