August 5 Board Meeting – Budget Issues

The Ramseur Board of Commissioners held their regular monthly meeting on Monday night, 5 August 2019, and, as usual, it was another shocking display of incompetence and childish behavior.

After approving a few changes to the agenda, the board discussed and approved a consent agenda that included police and fire expense reports for the month of July, a bill from Consolidated Pipe for equipment to update the last few water meters in town to automated reading technology, and a bill for $32,000 for a sewer line inspection camera the board agreed to purchase during budget negotiations in June.

Another item, added to the consent agenda at the last minute, was a $2000 bill from State Code Enforcement for their services in July. Mayor Shaw stated that much of that bill was generated by the company sending out “high grass” letters. Mayor Shaw said that going forward such notices will be mailed out by our local administration, which currently amounts to himself, assistant clerk Grant Cheek, and Jill Wood, who is now apparently our de facto interim clerk. Those who wish to review that invoice and the associated documents may do so by clicking here, here, here, and here.

Since no one signed up to make a public comment this month, and there was no old business to discuss, the mayor called Rodney Trogdon to the podium for the first new business of the evening. Mr. Trogdon, a retired member of the Randolph County Probation and Parole Department, spoke to the board at length about Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.

After Mr. Trogdon’s remarks, Mayor Shaw introduced  several budget amendments that had become necessary after state auditors found inaccuracies in the tax rates used to write the 2019-20 budget ordinance.

The video below should start at that point in the meeting. If it doesn’t, please fast forward to the thirty minute (30:00) mark.

Mayor Shaw began by reading an email, sent on July 11, to Bobbie Hatley from David Erwin, a staff member with the Local Government Commission (LGC), associated with the office of the State Treasurer. The full text of the email, minus the salutation and closing signature, is reproduced below.

A link to a marked up copy of the budget ordinance that was included in Mr. Erwin’s email can be viewed here. Clerk Hatley sent Mr. Erwin the following response on July 16.

Mr. Erwin responded back the following day.

Obviously something went wrong in the calculations Ms. Hatley used to develop the budget proposal submitted to board members and the errors found their way into the new budget. We should all be thankful that the state auditors caught this problem before we got any further into the new fiscal year.

After reading the emails above to the board last Monday night, Mayor Shaw stated that he had spoken with Mr. Erwin and implied the Mr. Erwin agreed with the mayor’s position that the new budget borrows too much from our fund balance, stating that “this is a dead end road.”

I am not an accountant and I do not know enough about the municipal budget process to offer an opinion on that subject, but I know enough about Mr. Shaw to realize that when he says he spoke to Mr. Erwin, there’s about a 50-50 chance no such conversation ever took place, either verbally or in writing.

Regular readers of this space are by now aware that I have a standing request for all email communications regarding public business to or from any elected official, our town clerk, and our attorney, but I can find no record of having received any of the above emails prior to today, 9 August 2019. In fact, I only received them today because I sent an email to the mayor and the interim clerk last evening demanding those copies before the close of business today.

How many other important documents have been withheld over the last seven months from this reporter and the citizens I serve with this project? I get plenty of emails about classes, webinars, surveys, and sales, but, especially since Ms. Hatley departed, the amount of useful information I receive has steadily declined in recent weeks.

I am also aware that Commissioner Smith has failed to comply with my legal request as well, having been made aware of more than a few messages sent by him over the last several months from numerous accounts.

The budget issues above also highlight another troubling problem with the current administration: asking the town clerk to wear too many hats.

I know nothing of Ms. Hatley’s work experience or education beyond the fact that we, the citizens of Ramseur, paid for her to attend numerous classes offered by the UNC School of Government over the past few years. Bobbie Hatley was our clerk, our financial officer, and our zoning administrator. She might as well have been our town administrator. Ms. Hatley was saddled with more responsibilities than any one person should ever have been asked to carry, especially for no more than we were paying her.

During the special meeting held on Friday, July 19, Commissioner Caudle brought several resumes from qualified financial professionals for the board to consider, but Mayor Shaw, overstepping his authority as the non-voting chair of the meeting, refused to allow discussion of those candidates.  At the same meeting Commissioner Cheek insisted that it was more important to hire a qualified clerk who could learn finance rather than hiring a qualified finance officer who could double as town clerk.

Wouldn’t it be better to hire a well qualified finance officer and replace Mr. Cheek with a competent clerk and then let those people manage the office together under the direction of the board?

Recently I’ve heard rumblings around town about water bills with big errors in them last month – the first month bills were generated without Ms. Hatley there to lead Grant Cheek through the process. It’s long past time for Commissioner Cheek to vacate his position as assistant town clerk before he does any more damage to our town.

It is the opinion of this reporter that until Danny Shaw and Grant Cheek are removed from that office, no qualified professional worth hiring will be willing to work here for longer than it takes to find out how these two and their posse operate. This November let’s give Grant Cheek the boot, and remember, don’t fall for Shaw.

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