Well, folks, that was an interesting meeting we had ourselves Tuesday night. In their zeal to silence me, my colleagues broke several statutes and probably their code of ethics. I say probably because I haven’t seen that document, or much of anything else since being sworn in last December. Everything I’ve tried to do has been challenged or blocked, by the mayor, the clerk, and at least some of the commissioners, at every turn, and I’ve got the receipts to prove that.
The state of North Carolina mandates that all local boards adopt a code of ethics, along with mandatory ethics training for elected officials. I took that training a couple of weeks ago, and it was quite revealing. I’ll talk more about that another time.
Recall that at last month’s regular board meeting, we voted to hold budget workshops beginning Tuesday night, February 6, and continuing each Tuesday night, except for our regular, third Tuesday business meetings, until the budget was finished and ready for adoption.
According to the UNC School of Government, if a municipal board meets at a time or place other than that shown on their regular meeting schedule (third Tuesday every month, 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall), it must give special meeting notice that sets out the time, place and purpose of said special meeting and is to be provided in three specific ways.
First, a notice must be posted on the “principal bulletin board of the public body”. This means the notice should be placed on the bulletin board in the lobby of our municipal building. In Ramseur, such notices are taped to the inside glass of the front and back doors of the building. Close enough, I guess.
Second, the notice must be mailed, emailed, or otherwise delivered to any person who has made a written request for notice of special meetings. Third, the notice must be posted on the town’s website (townoframseur.org), if it has one.
Each of these forms of notice must occur at least forty-eight hours before the meeting. It is important to note that the statute requires the notice to specify the purpose of the meeting. Boards are advised to “be careful when conducting special meetings not to discuss or take action on matters not included in the scope of the notice.” (Source: County and Municipal Government, UNC SoG, Chapter 9, page 139)
Notice of the meeting on Tuesday night was originally posted to the town’s Facebook page on January 18. The School of Government text doesn’t say anything about Facebook posts fulfilling the special meeting notice requirement. The book was published in 2014 when Facebook was only ten years old, but in my experience, relying on any social media platform for such notices is a less-than-ideal means of communication with our constituents. It is certainly not the same as posting a notice to the town’s website – a platform our administrative office controls.
I’ve kept the town’s official website open in a browser tab since the day I filed to run for a seat on the board last July, and I refresh it every few days. In the past year or two, special notices have been posted in the form of a grey pop-up window that covered the entire screen until the user clicked a button to make it go away, and then the notice would disappear, forever, or until the user reset their modem. I never saw a notice of that kind about the budget meeting schedule. I even reset my modem a few times over the last week to be certain.
A small notice was placed in the far bottom right corner of the front page. It was posted on February 5, and announced a budget workshop and a “short meeting”. No details about what additional business would be discussed. That notice, clearly dated February 5, 2024, was posted less than forty-eight hours ahead of the meeting, violating the statutory requirement.
Not only did this notice fail to meet the legal forty-eight-hour notice requirement, but neither the posted notice nor the meeting agenda, emailed to the board members on Saturday, February 3 at 2:30 p.m., contained any details about additional business we needed to discuss. The third line of the agenda simply read, “Comments from the Mayor”.
Mayor Spivey has so much experience, I thought perhaps he had some sage advice to bestow upon the board members, but that was not the case. Instead, as you can see, beginning about thirteen minutes into the video, Mayor Spivey had three items to discuss: an email he’d received from someone regarding potential EPA funding for “brownfields” remediation in cooperation with two other municipalities, removing me from all of my departmental duties, and what appeared to be a budget amendment request from the police department for new body armor.
I’ve seen this board make much more important decisions than authorizing the mayor to sign a letter with the consent of a majority via email, so I find it hard to believe that any reasonable person would find this issue worthy of consideration outside our regular monthly business meetings.
The third item brought to the meeting had to do with the procurement of new body armor for our police officers. Adequate protective equipment for those employees is an important issue that the board should discuss, but no vote was taken on Tuesday night. Once again, a reasonable person looking on from the audience would conclude that perhaps this issue wasn’t as pressing as the mayor and commissioners would have you believe. Both of these topics should have been placed on the agenda for the next business meeting, rather than being added improperly to this special meeting.
Sandwiched between those two items was the real business Mayor Spivey and my colleagues wanted to address; punishing me for uttering the word ‘bitch’ on the front steps of the municipal office one morning after our clerk, Carol Akers, addressed me, a duly elected commissioner, dismissively and disrespectfully the last time I visited the office.
Yes, my comment was rude, but no more rude than the terrible things Mr. Spivey shouted at me from that same spot last June after another special meeting, before either of us was elected to office.
In fact, on the night of December 21, 2023, I and several other members of the audience overheard Ms. Akers herself use that word to describe then-Mayor Vicki Caudle as she and the Commissioners were leaving the room to discuss – I assume – Ms. Akers, in a closed session.
I watched Ms. Akers lean over and say, “She’s just doing that because she’s a bitch,” to two of her subordinate employees who work with her in the office. I heard it, my wife heard it, and Ray Caudle heard it. I know this because I distinctly recall turning towards him at that moment, and him asking me if I’d heard what he’d heard. I suspect a few other people sitting near the clerk’s desk also heard her disrespectful remark.
So what’s good for the goose, in Ramseur, isn’t good for the gander, and since when does the mayor get to decide what departments commissioners are assigned to? The last two boards, when Danny Shaw and Vicki Caudle each held the mayor’s gavel, would have never considered allowing them to dictate those decisions, and at our January meeting, when Commissioner Brower wanted to revisit that subject, Mayor Spivey emphatically stated that there would be “no do-overs”. When I questioned him about this Tuesday, his response was, “Don’t I have the right to change my mind?”
Yes, Mr. Mayor, you most certainly do have the right to change your mind, what you don’t have is the authority to rule this board like some tin-horned dictator. Mayors in North Carolina do not have that authority, nor do they have the authority, without the express permission of the commissioners, to dictate what is included in a meeting agenda, nor does the clerk, but we don’t care what the law says here in Ramseur, do we?
I wish I could say that I was surprised by the actions of Mayor Spivey and my fellow commissioners Tuesday night, stripping me of my departmental assignments. The truth is I expected something like this, just not in a budget workshop. I’m far less disappointed in the action taken than I am in the total lack of integrity displayed by the mayor and the other four commissioners. That they would ignore statutory requirements – and consulted our attorney beforehand for guidance on how to go about skirting the law – is simply a bridge too far.
I left the meeting after being stripped of my duties because the proceeding had become blatantly unethical and, in my opinion, illegal actions were being taken. I will not be a party to such behavior; it made me physically ill.
I stated to the board members that their actions would free me to become a commissioner-at-large and allow me to look into issues within any department. Sadly, that will only be an exercise in futility since Clerk Akers, Commissioner Brower, and Mayor Spivey have all made it clear that even as a duly elected official of the Town of Ramseur they intend to continue disregarding legal public records requests from me and other taxpaying citizens.
They wanted me to resign last Tuesday night.
Be careful what you wish for.