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Council debates policy on agenda item requests, smoke shops, unaccompanied minors


Tuesday’s Fayetteville City Council meeting marked an eventful night of discussion. 

The most notable action was the council’s unanimous decision to reject Council Member Courtney Banks-McLaughlin’s attempt to censure Mayor Mitch Colvin and Council Member Mario Benavente. The censure stemmed from allegations made against them by former Police Chief Gina Hawkins, who threatened a lawsuit against the city in August, claiming that she experienced a hostile work environment and discrimination as police chief. The city ultimately agreed to a $200,000 settlement with Hawkins.

The meeting, however, also featured fruitful discussions about the city’s policies on a number of issues. Here’s what else was discussed, and what might happen next:

Council member agenda item requests 

During a meeting of the City Council Policy Committee held an hour before Tuesday’s work session, Council Member D.J. Haire suggested a shift in the way council members make individual requests for items to appear on meeting agendas. 

The requests are submitted through a standard written form that includes two questions and space for additional comments. Haire said the forms are often incomplete when submitted, and he would like to change that. 

“I think the most important part of it is additional comments,” Haire said. “Because if you don't call me or I call Malik [Davis] or Lynne [Greene], or if I don't call a council member, you all may not quite catch what I'm talking about until the meeting . . . So I'm asking for us to have a discussion that, before we even allow a council request item to move forward, the form be completely filled out.” 

Council Member Haire said council members submitting incomplete forms or requests lacking specific details has been an ongoing issue, a point that was reiterated by City Manager Doug Hewett. Hewett suggested staff could start by putting together a list of council requests over the last year and find an example of one that was completely filled out

“I would welcome the council taking a look at the form to see whether or not the questions that are asked are questions that you need to review in advance of the meeting,” Hewett said. “Because that may be one of the reasons that you say you have to call people, is that the questions on the form may not be relevant to what you want to know as a council.”

Haire, a member of the policy committee, did not specify what prompted him to make this suggestion.

More than a week prior, Banks-McLaughlin submitted an item request form on Dec. 22 to censure Colvin and Benavente. That form did not have the “additional comments” section filled out.  

Unaccompanied minors

Also on Tuesday, the council heard a presentation from Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department (FCPR) that summarized how the department and similar governmental agencies handle unaccompanied minors in city buildings or properties, namely parks or recreation centers. 

Currently, children 8 years old or older can be left unaccompanied at the centers based on state law. FCPR also does not allow school-age children in the recreation centers without guardianship during school operating hours, Parks and Recreation Director Michael Gibson told the council. 

During the summer, after kids get out of their day camps, “if a child walks into the park, we consider parks and recreation to be responsible for them,” Gibson added. 

Other cities have different age limits or no specific policies regarding unaccompanied minors, Gibson said. He emphasized the FCPR is “operating at or above comparable department standards” compared to peer agencies the department looked at when preparing the report.  

Gibson said parks and recreation staff also follow a procedure of “Just Doesn’t Look Right,” where they assess a child’s circumstances and make a determination based on whether there are any risks to the child’s health and safety, or if they appear to have been abandoned by a caretaker. 

“If a child looks like they can't manage their well-being, then it's up to our staff to make sure you approach the person, you approach the child to make sure that child can take care of themselves,” Gibson said. 

Council Member Kathy Jensen, who had requested the presentation, criticized the current policy for not adequately ensuring child safety. She referred to an instance at  Keith Bates Aquatic Center two  and a half years  ago in which she said a 3-year-old and 6-year-old were left unsupervised at a local recreation center and wandered into the pool area while the mother was said to be shopping. A lifeguard eventually discovered that no one was watching them and intervened, Gibson separately added.

“It could have turned out very bad,” Jensen said. “So I keep bringing it up until we get some type of resolution, that we have something [in place]. But we can't just let 3-year-olds and 6-year-olds come into a very dangerous environment.”

The council ultimately voted to have the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission come up with a recommendation on the issue and forward it to the Council Policy Committee for further review. 

Smoke shop regulations

Haire proposed the city modify zoning regulations for vape shops to prevent them from opening in residential neighborhoods and near schools. The suggestion is similar to ordinances recently passed by the county and currently being discussed in other local municipalities. 

Haire expressed concerns about new vape shops opening up in low-income communities, in particular, and wants to “protect” the neighborhoods where he believes those businesses are especially prevalent. He said he wants staff to investigate possible zoning regulations to address his concerns. 

“How could we modify this? How could we improve this?” Haire asked. “How could we even look at the zoning and see what we can do in zoning where they can actually be placed, or even how close they can be placed to residential communities?”

Council Member Deno Hondros said he’d spoken to county commissioners about the county’s new regulations.  He believes in regulating distances of smoke shops in proximity to schools and churches, but doesn't think the city should regulate the shops' distance from each other.  

In addition, Hondros thinks the city should take proactive measures to educate young people about the risks of smoking or vaping. 

“If we want to argue that the product they sell is not beneficial, then we're not doing anything to look at the root cause,” Hondros said.  

Haire made a motion for staff to study possible regulations to address his concerns, which Colvin said he also had conversations with county elected officials about. The council unanimously agreed to instruct staff to conduct a study on the issue. 

Meeting time changes

The council voted 6-4 to change its meeting start times. Regular council meetings, which take place on the second and fourth Monday of the month, will now begin at 6:30 p.m. as opposed to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, work sessions will now begin at 2 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. 

The council’s dinner meetings, which take place prior to regular meetings and are also open to the public, will now start at 5:30 p.m. as opposed to 6 p.m. 

Council Members Benavente, Brenda McNair, Banks-McLaughlin and Lynne Greene voted against the motion, citing concerns that the 2 p.m. meeting time would conflict with council members’ and residents’ regular working schedules.

The next city council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8. at City Hall, 433 Hay St. The meeting will be aired on Spectrum Cable Channel 7 and live-streamed at faytv.net.

This article has been updated to reflect that  Hewett did not say  that council members submitting incomplete forms or requests lacking specific details has been an ongoing issue. Hewett reiterated  Haire's point about council member request forms. CityView regrets this error. 

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608.

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city council, policy, meeting