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Spring Lake board to consider invocation policy


SPRING LAKE — Prayer is back on the agenda for the Spring Lake Board of Aldermen, whose members will consider adopting an invocation policy for meetings.

It will be the fourth time since December that the invocation policy has been up for discussion.

It was first brought up by Mayor Kia Anthony at a board training session on Dec. 17. At that session, she said “not everyone in the community is a Christian and not everyone wants to pray to the Christian God.” She said the invocation either needed to be looked at further or removed for inclusion purposes.

Two work session agendas in March showed a draft proposal removing the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. The proposed agenda item was removed at the beginning of the March 14 meeting. The proposal was clarified when it came back to the March 28 meeting, saying it was for consideration of a nonsectarian prayer policy.

Anthony did not return messages seeking comment for this story. 

Although several board members raised concerns at the March 28 meeting, the board voted 4-1 to create a policy regarding the invocation. Alderman Marvin Lackman was the dissenting vote.

Lackman said in March that based on practices by the state legislature and other municipalities, he did not see where the town’s practices were unconstitutional.

“Since we are not in violation of the Constitution, I see no need for a policy where staff was asked to work on this instead of working on addressing the issues in front of us,” Lackman said Thursday.

Lackman said the town had more pressing matters, like the audit findings to work on.

He was referring to a state audit report released March 17 that 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.

Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick said she agreed with Lackman that it didn’t appear there were any problems with the current invocation practice.

“I agreed with Alderman Lackman at the last discussion and didn’t think how we were saying the prayer or how it was structured was inappropriate,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick and Lackman said they had heard from several residents on the topic.

“What I want to see happen is what the community wants. The opinion of community matters to me. We want to hear from them,” said Chadwick, who added that she planned to talk with residents and religious leaders in Spring Lake.

Alderman Raul Palacios said at the March 28 meeting that he would look at a suggested policy but was unsure that his position would change.

“The only policy that I’m in favor of regarding the invocation is that anyone should be able to lead it so long as they are respectful, non-disparaging and brief, to include board members when the public is unable to lead the invocation,” Palacios said Thursday.

Interim Town Manager Joe Durham said the policy on Monday’s agenda is a draft. It is a suggested policy based on board discussion and other research. He said other municipalities do not have a policy as long as their practices are practical, reasonable and compliant with the law.

“This is for discussion purposes only unless the aldermen want to decline or approve it,” he said.

Other items on the agenda include a report from the Audit Committee, which is made up of Anthony, Palacios and Alderwoman Sona Cooper. The last time the town had an Audit Committee was after the first investigative audit report by the State Auditor’s office, which was released in 2016. The committee at that time was made up of the town manager, the mayor pro tem, two appointed Spring Lake residents who went through an application process, an official from another municipality and the finance director as an ex-officio member.

Palacios said Thursday they were making progress with the help of the Local Government Commission and senior town staff. He said they were going to invite a resident with a financial background to join as an ad-hoc member. The committee meetings would be open to the public beginning in June.

The board also plans to vote on a resolution to dispose of surplus town vehicles and equipment. Durham has been sorting through documentation of town-owned vehicles in response to one of the audit findings. He found 24 surplus vehicles that could be declared surplus and sold by auction.

One of the findings in the audit report was that the town failed to safeguard town vehicles, increasing the risk of theft and misuse of the vehicles. The audit report said the town did not designate anyone to be responsible for maintaining an inventory of vehicles or monitoring vehicle use. It also called the town’s vehicle policy inadequate.

The board meets Monday at 6 p.m. in the Grady Howard conference room at Town Hall.

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, invocation, audit