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Williams sworn in as interim Spring Lake manager

Town board wants definitive answer from state Treasurer Dale Folwell on contract with Justine Jones


SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen swore in Fire Chief Jason Williams as interim town manager on Monday night.

Williams was appointed interim town manager on Oct. 24 after state Treasurer Dale Folwell said he would not approve funding to hire Justine Jones as the town manager.

Folwell is also chairman of the Local Government Commission, which took over Spring Lake’s finances in October 2021 amid concerns of potential budget deficits, longstanding fiscal disarray and an investigation of missing money.

Mayor Kia Anthony on Monday gave an update on the status of the town manager search.

Anthony announced at the Oct. 24 meeting after Williams was appointed as interim town manager that the town would be sending a contract to the Local Government Commission for Jones to be the next manager despite the opposition from Folwell.

“Our town manager search is still in limbo,’’ Anthony said. “We have contacted the state Treasurer’s Office, the state Auditor’s Office and the deputy secretary for the Treasurer’s Office. We sent the contract off two weeks ago. We received a response back stating that Treasurer Folwell wanted to meet with me.”

She said there was no answer about the contract, so the board reached out again and was again told that Folwell wanted to meet with her.  

“He is one member of the governing body for the LGC and it doesn’t provide very much relief on the situation that we are facing, meeting with one person of the body and not the entire body,” Anthony said.

She said the board was waiting for a response or the pre-authorization of the contract.

Alderman Raul Palacios said there was more to say about the contract with Jones.

He said Folwell had provided dates that he could meet that did not work with Anthony’s schedule and vice versa.

“The town is still playing hot potato with this contract and in my opinion, we need to move on,’’ Palacios said. “But this is where we are right now. I am sorry for the controversy this is bringing to the town, that this decision continues to bring to the town. I wish the town would move on. We continue to play hot potato and we have that hot potato in our hands.” 

Alderwoman Sona Cooper said she still supported the hiring of Jones and attributed some of the turmoil to gossip around town.

“We have the right to ask them to approve the contract,” Cooper said.

Town Attorney Michael Porter said the proposed contract needs to have a pre-authorization certification as all municipalities need from the Local Government Commission and that the town had submitted the contract to David Erwin, who serves as the accounting and financial management advisor for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer and the town finance officer, and to the entire Local Government Commission board.

“We’ve received no response,’’ Porter said. “We’ve requested action. If it will be signed or not, yes or no. We want an official response and, quite frankly, please give us an official response and don’t talk to us by press release.”

Porter said the town had received several responses back asking for meetings with Anthony.

However, he said the town could only have general conversations in public because contract negotiations and personnel files were protected by state law.

 The board voted 3-2 on Oct. 10 to appoint Jones as permanent town manager on conditional approval of the contract by the Local Government Commission, the Board of Aldermen and the town attorney, and acceptance of the contract terms by Jones.

Folwell issued a news release on Oct. 13 saying he would not approve the funding for Jones, who had recently been fired after 90 days from her first job as a town manager in Kenly. She was fired after the entire full-time Police Department. including the police chief and two other employees, quit. They said she created a hostile work environment. 

He cited past employment history, concern for potential legal and financial liabilities and the potential adverse impact on town morale as his reasons for not supporting the hire.

Folwell said in an interview earlier this month that the ability to budget and manage the finances of a large organization should be at the forefront of the board’s decision-making when selecting a town manager. 

According to Jones’ resume, she has one year of budget experience and 90 days of town management experience. Prior to her brief employment in Kenly, Jones sued Richland County, South Carolina, alleging gender and racial discrimination after she was fired. In between, she spent five years operating her own consultant company.

Anthony and Porter said Kenly hired a third-party private investigator who showed that the claims of a hostile work environment were unfounded.

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In other news, the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Parks & Recreation merger took effect Monday, officially marking the partnership between the town and county, according to Anthony.

Anthony said the cost savings would be $100,000, and the town will still be in control of all real property. The management of the facilities and staff members will be with the county.

Spring Lake has a multi-purpose community center along with the senior center, five parks, a splash pad, two basketball courts and two tennis courts.

Anthony said the town facilities and parks would be receiving an upgrade, and that Spring Lake children could now participate in competitions throughout the county system.

The board went into closed session citing N.C. General Statutes for privilege-confidential-approval closed session minutes, attorney-client privilege and personnel at 7 p.m. They came out of closed session shortly after 8 p.m. with no action taken. 

Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView. She can be reached at jmclaughlin@cityviewnc.com.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, interim town manager, Justine Jones, Dale Folwell, Local Government Commission