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Spring Lake board expected to discuss next move with town manager

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SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen is scheduled for a work session tonight to hear the latest financial report from the Local Government Commission and discuss the next move toward hiring a town manager.

 The board is expected to go into closed session citing N.C. general statutes for personnel and attorney-client privilege for the second time since the announcement that state Treasurer Dale Folwell would not approve funds to hire Justine Jones as town manager. Jones was hired in a 3-2 vote by the board two weeks ago.

 Folwell, who is also chairman of the Local Government Commission, said the ability to budget and manage the finances of a large organization should be at the forefront of the board’s decision-making.

 According to Jones’ resume, she has one year of budget experience and served as a town manager for three months before being fired from the town of Kenly. Kenly made national headlines when seven employees including the police chief and four full-time police officers turned in their resignations after Jones had been on the job for 45 days. They said she created a hostile work environment.

 Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony and town attorney Michael Porter said Kenly hired a third-party private investigator and it was proven that the claims of a hostile work environment were unfounded.

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.

 Folwell said he did not approve the hiring of Jones out of concern over the potential for legal and financial liabilities and potential adverse impact on town morale.  

 “The town does not need a distraction from the important work they are doing to return the town to fiscal health,” he said.

The Local Government Commission took over Spring Lake’s finances in October 2021. State Auditor Beth Wood earlier this year found over $500,000 in misappropriated funds from Spring Lake, and other questions about missing town property remain unanswered, a release sent by Folwell said. A state audit in 2016 also found mismanagement of the town’s finances.

 Last week, Anthony announced after the board came out of a closed session that she would be seeking an informal meeting with Folwell.

 Folwell said in an interview Friday he would welcome a meeting and hopes the board understands the seriousness of the situation the town finds itself in.

 “I am always interested in a meeting with the mayor if she wants to come to Raleigh for an open meeting and discuss next steps for Spring Lake,” Folwell said.

 He also added that his only interest was helping Spring Lake.

 “Our office is made up of rescuers and our only purpose is to help communities like Spring Lake to keep them from drowning. But like the Boy Scout handbook said 75 years ago, you can’t rescue someone who doesn’t want to be saved.” 

 “We don’t need to discuss a person, we need to talk if Spring Lake can survive, how they will operate a Police Department, a Fire Department, Water and Sewer department. If they can manage the finances of a large organization. The money that was embezzled is not recoverable. The taxpayers are going to pay for it. We must look at the future of Spring Lake.” 

As of Friday, a meeting had not been scheduled between Anthony and Folwell.

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

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, town manager