SPRING LAKE - The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen took no action Thursday night after meeting in closed session for about 30 minutes, but the mayor did announce a new interim town manager.
The board called the special meeting one week after the state Auditor’s Office released a report that said a lack of oversight and controls led to money missing from the town. It also came one day after the Local Government Commission held a special meeting in Raleigh to appoint staff to help with the town’s finances.
The Spring Lake board met in closed session under the general statute for attorney-client privilege.
State Rep. Marvin Lucas was in the audience as the board went into closed session. He held a copy of the 2022 state audit report and said he was invited to the meeting to discuss problems with the Spring Lake budget.
“We don’t have anything to do with it, but we can see where we can assist,” Lucas said.
The audit report released March 17 outlined six findings, including that the former finance director used more than $400,000 in town money for personal use and that town employees had spent over $100,000 in questionable credit card purchases.
The state Auditor’s Office and the Local Government Commission were critical of the town’s response to the audit findings, saying it lacked sufficient detail, did not include target dates for completion, or indicate who would be responsible for corrective actions, among other issues.
Lucas, who lives in Spring Lake, served as mayor from 1997 to 2000 and was a member of the town’s board for 20 years before being elected to his current office in 2001.
He said he was willing to serve as an ombudsman to help the town concentrate on fixing the issues, including the budget deficits.
“We need to look at this from a holistic approach,” Lucas said. “It’s time to fix the problems.”
Lucas said he and other state lawmakers were invited to the meeting, including Sens. Kirk deViere and Tom McInnis and Reps. John Szoka, Billy Richardson and Diane Wheatley.
DeViere arrived while the board was in closed session. He said he received a request for a delegation meeting from the town clerk.
Once the board came out of closed session and the meeting was adjourned, Mayor Kia Anthony asked the two lawmakers to join her in her office in the back of town hall.
Town Attorney Jonathan Charleston and Aldermen Sona Cooper and Raul Palacios also stayed for the meeting in the mayor’s office. Aldermen Marvin Lackman and Adrian Thompson left the building. Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick was absent.
Interim town manager announced
The board took no action following its closed session, but the mayor did announce that the board had entered into an agreement to hire Joe Durham of Joe Durham and Associates as the interim town manager.
Durham is under contract with the town to search for a permanent town manager. He spent more than 30 years in municipal government, most notably as the Wake County manager for 14 years.
Anthony said the board discussed hiring Durham with the Local Government and it was supportive.
“We are very excited about this,’’ Anthony said. “He’s experienced. He’s definitely a move in the right direction to help us get this town back in order. Not only is the board excited, but the LGC is very, very excited about this decision as well so we will be moving forward with hiring Mr. Durham subject to completing the contract and getting approval from the LGC.”
The Local Government Commission took over the town’s finances in October amid concerns over budget deficits, fiscal disarray and possible missing money. Some of those issues were addressed in the audit report released March 17.
Charleston quickly interjected that the agreement was in principle and that action had not formally been taken by the board to hire Durham.
Interim Town Manager Samantha Wullenwaber was relieved of her duties by the Board of Aldermen on March 17, the day the audit report was released. Charleston is serving out a 30-day notice with the town, which was given to the mayor and the Local Government Commission on Wednesday.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Aldermen meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. in the Grady Howard conference room in town hall.
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.