FAIRMONT — A heated argument erupted Tuesday between the town’s commissioners and mayor over why the town attorney resigned.
Town Attorney Rob Price submitted a letter of resignation via email to the town on Friday. When it was all said and done, Mayor Charles Townsend acted as the tiebreaker in a 3-3 vote to accept Price’s resignation.
Commissioner Terry Evans, who said Price had served the town well, asked the attorney to explain his reason for resignation.
“First, I have served as the town attorney since, I believe, 2003, and what led to this was the manager (interim Town Manager Ricky Harris) called me and said that the mayor had asked him to call me and to inform me that the board wanted to hire a new attorney,” Price said.
Commissioners Monte McCallum, Felecia McLean-Kesler and Evans said they were not a part of the decision to hire a new attorney. They voted against accepting the resignation.
“The board didn’t know anything about this,” McCallum said. “Maybe it’s just specific ones.”
McCallum said the Board of Commissioners should be informed before taking votes at meetings.
“To find the majority in the meeting, don’t you think the board should know what’s going on?” McCallum asked. “… The board consists of six members, not four, not three.”
“The board is the majority. If you take the vote, you’ll see who the majority is,” said Townsend with a laugh. “That’s how you tell.”
The commissioners voted 4-2 to accept a one-year contract with Jessica B. Scott, an associate at Pembroke-based private law firm Hunt & Brooks, Attorneys & Counselors at Law and Pembroke’s town attorney, to provide legal counsel. Evans and McCallum voted no. The contract is effective July 1 to July 1, 2021, “unless renewed by commissioners.”
The board will pay the firm $600 a month to attend monthly board meetings and provide legal guidance. The town will pay $125 per hour, billed in 15-minute increments, for more extensive legal work or attendance at specially called board meetings. The town will pay $65 per hour if an extensive course of legal work requires attention from one or more legal assistants.
Travel or any other expenses incurred during the performance of the attorney’s duties will be paid by the town. An attorney from the firm also must attend the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.; National League of Cities City Summit; and the Municipal Attorney’s Winter Conference and Fundamentals Workshop at UNC School of Government.
If Scott is not available, the town reserves the right to obtain counsel from other attorneys within the firm.
In other business, the board approved a $2,055,487 fiscal year 2020-21 budget that includes no increases in taxes or fees. It does include a 2% cost-of-living increase for town town employees effective Jan. 1.
The budget is $47,650 less than the current fiscal year’s spending plan. The decrease reflects conservative revenue estimates prompted by the financial impacts of COVID-19.
The town also is anticipating a 4% decrease in sales tax collections, interim Town Manager Harris said.
The Public Safety Department was given $904,936 and the Public Works $614,180. Administration costs accounted for 16%, or $327,922 of the budget, and recreation/other costs 10%, or $208,449.
The police department also received a $34,892 grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission to pay for handguns, equipment and training.
Evans said the Public Works department should have received more money because it makes the town more money than the police department.
The town also set aside $7,500 to remove abandoned homes, the owners of which owed nearly $8,000 in back taxes in January.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners accepted a bid of $2,500 to sell the property at 606 N. Main St.
Commissioners also decided to declare a 1990 Ford fire truck as surplus property and to advertise for sealed bids for its purchase.
An increase in ABC Board members’ monthly pay from $80 to $125 was also was approved. The chairman also will receive a raise from $105 to $150 per month. The increases were approved on a 4-2 vote by the commissioners, with Mayor Pro Tem J.J. McCree and Commissioner Charles Kemp voting no.
The commissioners voted unanimously to hold regular monthly meetings in the Fairmont-South Robeson Heritage Center.
Commissioner McCallum requested Tuesday that policies be put in place to protect African Americans from police brutality.
“We need to address this,” he said.
In response, Police Chief Jon Edwards reviewed policies concerning excessive force.
The town’s police department follows “8 Can’t Wait,” which provides eight guidelines used by law enforcement agencies across the nation, he said. The guidelines include de-escalation techniques, warnings before shooting and shooting as a last resort, among others.
Edwards also addressed the use of body cams.
“Anytime you have any interaction with the public, your body cam should be on,” he said.
The commissioners also heard from Tara Ivey, a resident who lives at 706 Church St. Ivey requested help in cleaning up a section of her street where trees were cut in March. Ivey said the debris left behind and the poor cleanup effort violate town ordinance.
“We shouldn’t have to live this way,” Ivey said. “Our neighborhood shouldn’t have to be like this.”
Townsend said the board would look at the property, and Kemp asked the interim town manager to use his resources to find a solution.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]
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