HOPE MILLS — The town’s Board of Commissioners on Monday night scheduled a vote for March 6 on changing the way town leaders are elected — despite hearing from a couple of residents who oppose the move.
The board held a public hearing on a plan to alter the town charter to change the length of terms for commissioners and the mayor from two years to four years. In addition, the terms would be staggered so that not all the officeholders would be on the ballot every two years.
No one spoke in favor of the change during the public hearing.
Before opening the floor to the public, Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr. reminded board members why they are considering the changes.
“The general idea of four-year, staggered terms is to add continuity and consistency to leadership,” said Hartzog. “The town has a lot of big, multimillion-dollar projects going on. When you have the potential of turning over every two years, that can cause havoc on long-term projects. It makes sure that the continuity of leadership and vision of the board is in place.”
Hartzog said that having two-year turnovers runs the risk of a whole new board coming into office at once.
“This would affect the town’s long-term projects,” Hartzog said.
The change would not affect the terms of the current mayor or commissioners.
“I want to clarify: You will not be voting to extend your own term. This would be voting for whoever comes into office next,” Hartzog said.
Resident Sally Bailey stood before the board and said she opposes the idea. She said she believes the public needs to be more involved in town politics. She said she is not absolutely opposed to four-year terms but thinks the town is not ready for the change.
“I don’t think 3,000 voters can put people in office for four years at this time when we don’t know what we’re doing,” said Bailey. “We need to get people to get out and vote more. We don’t take interest in our town. Let’s see if we can get the town more involved. Then, if we go for a four-year term, then they will vote for the people they really want in there.
“We need the right people to run (for office) and run this town well. As you know, we have had issues in the past with commissioners, and the town has not run well,” Bailey said.
Commissioner Joanne Scarola agreed that there are pluses and minuses about the change. Scarola and Commissioner Jerry Legge have said they oppose staggered, four-year terms because town voters have previously voted against the change.
“You can have a good commissioner and have them for four years. Then you can have a bad commissioner and have them for four years. It’s a two-edged sword,” Scarola said.
Bailey also told the board that the change “needs to go to the people for the vote. It’s our town too.”
Lewis Oatman said he could not make Monday’s public hearing, so he wrote a letter instead. Oatman wrote that he opposes four-year, staggered terms. The town clerk read Oatman’s letter out loud to the board.
“I ask each of you to strongly consider your vote tonight to be a vote for ‘no’ to staggered terms of office and place it on the ballot in November so the citizens can choose,” Oatman wrote.
After Oatman’s letter was read in full, Hartzog reminded the board members that they were not voting on the staggered terms Monday night because the process requires a public hearing first.
The board then scheduled a vote on the issue at its March 6 meeting.
Also Monday, officials recognized a historic night for Hope Mills.
It was the first time in the town’s history that three African-Americans represented the town in a municipal meeting. In her opening, Mayor Jackie Warner acknowledged Commissioners Grilley Mitchell and Kenjuana McCray and newly sworn-in interim Town Manager Chancer McLaughlin.
“This is a unique history to Hope Mills, and I think it’s a special month and special time for Hope Mills,” Warner said. “We need to applaud that. Hope Mills is not only celebrating its history but celebrating Black History Month.”
The board then heard an update on the new public safety building from architect Scott Garner, who said the project is 94% complete and crews are currently working on sewer connections.
Garner also asked the board to approve the 13th change order at the cost of just over $25,000. Board members raised concerns about the price tag of $14,135 for installing a heavy concrete slab, but they voted unanimously to approve the change order. The heavy slab is for the housing of the Police Department’s armored car but does not include the shelter for the car.
Garner said the cost of the slab will be included in the contractor’s, bill but the vehicle shelter will be purchased separately to save money.
Garner told the board the money will come from the contingency fund.
Also, the board unanimously passed its consent agenda, which included the approval of plans for the historic Thomas Campbell Oakman Memorial Chapel.
The plans for use and the removal of historic furniture were topics of heated debate between the board and the historic committee, The board worked with the town’s historic preservation committee and reached a plan both could agree on.
Also as part of the consent agenda, the board unanimously approved a bid from A-1 Landscaping and Lot Clearing for landscape and installation of the municipal building parking lot. The amount is to not exceed $24,048. The price includes shrubs and trees along with new stormwater features, according to Lamarco Morrison, the town parks and recreation director.