In the almost three months since I was sworn in as a member of the Ramseur Board of Commissioners, I’ve tried to do a good, honest job. I took the time to meet with all the employees who work in our Streets Department, as well as the operators at both the water and the sewer treatment plants.
I see, or maybe I should say that I saw my job as two-fold, since Mayor Spivey and his band of merry conspirators booted me out of all my departmental assignments last Tuesday night. My priority is to be a good steward of your tax dollars, and to me, a big part of that entails making sure I understand the work that these employees are asked to do for us and making sure that they have all the tools they need to provide the services. I want our all employees to be well equipped, well trained, well paid, and well rested when they arrive for another day of work, so I went to them and listened, and as I explained to them all, my job is to be their advocate. I should also point out that most of them were terrified of losing their jobs for simply speaking their minds.
Once the budget meeting schedule was adopted, I realized that I needed to know how much overtime these men were working, so I requested time sheets from the clerk’s office. Mayor Spivey tried to gaslight me, and anyone who was watching the meeting Tuesday night, by claiming I had asked for a year’s worth of work orders for the sole purpose of gumming up the works in the office. As you can see from the email reproduced here, that was not the case.
This is typical of almost every public records request I have made to the clerk’s office in recent years. I either get word games or I get completely ignored, even when my requests are made in writing and a copy sent to our attorney, Mr. Wilhoit, whose primary purpose here seems to be telling the board members how to bend the law and split legal hairs while maintaining plausible deniability for himself. He called me twice ahead of the meeting on Tuesday night, both times urging me not to lose my temper. In hindsight, it seems more than reasonably certain that good old Bob knew exactly what this cast of clowns had in store for me that night.
Tell me, how was I supposed to prepare for a meaningful discussion about the budgetary needs of the departments I was assigned without accurate information? I’m certainly not going to leave the details up to a commissioner who writes like a fourth grader or his handpicked utility director who, more than a year and $96,000 later, hasn’t obtained all the certifications he needs to be qualified for that job, even at it’s $65,000 base pay. He had to take at least one of his certification exams four times to pass; the state allows three tries before we, taxpayers, have to pay for another test.
Unlike any of my peers on the Board of Commissioners, I own and operate a small business. I may not be well versed in payroll procedures or labor law, since I work alone, but I do know a thing or two about budgeting, keeping a surplus and a good credit rating, and wringing the most I can get out of every dollar I spend.
If my records request was overly burdensome to the clerk and her staff, the professional response would have been for her or one of her staff members to ask me if an alternative source might fill my need for information. I’m sure there’s a spreadsheet somewhere in that office containing all those numbers, but it was never about the amount of work involved in meeting my requests.
Clerk Akers has a problem controlling her emotions, especially when the party involved has been critical of her office. Instead of having adult conversations with people she doesn’t like, be they water customers, former officials, or sitting commissioners, she ignores their requests or forwards them to her friend, Commissioner Brower (her “immediate supervisor”), or the mayor.
A few weeks ago, on January 9, I needed to add several items to our January 16 meeting agenda, so I emailed my list to Carol, as I assumed was the protocol. I had to assume because no one from the office or the council has ever offered me any information about how anything is done. I had to figure it out on my own by trial and error, and no matter what I did, it was always wrong according to the gatekeepers.
I sent in my list and twenty-four hours passed before I received any response. Clerk Akers waited until Mayor Spivey arrived at the office the next morning, and together they created a list of denials and excuses why none of my issues would be added to the agenda.
According to the UNC School of Government and North Carolina General Statutes, that’s not how this works. Carol’s response, which you can read by clicking here, prompted a brief but incendiary call from the mayor that ultimately resulted – after ten minutes of us both cursing into our phones at the top of our lungs – in the revelation that we were going to have a very long meeting on the 16th.
In the end, Mayor Spivey said that they just wanted me to not submit so much all at once. Maybe he or his infantile clerk should have led with that ask. My response would have been, ‘Okay,” and we’d have gone forward from there, but these folks don’t operate in good faith. Our mayor loves to cuss and fight, but he’s afraid to speak the phrase, “showed your ass,” on camera in the meeting room because it might offend his fan club.
I pared down my request, but a couple of items kept nagging me and I wanted some feedback from my colleagues. As much as I prefer to do business in writing, I feel even more strongly that public business should always be discussed in public. It’s a thing called transparency and accountability. You might even have seen some of the other board members running for office on those ideas; ideas they have failed to live up to many times. So I sat down on the morning of January 15 – MLK, Jr. Day – and typed up a brief, two-page report, including color photos, turned it into a PDF document, and emailed it to the clerk. Here’s what I wrote:
Hi Carol, I know you’re off work today. No need to respond.
I just wanted to get my department reports to you. Please add them to the agenda as you and Mayor Spivey see fit, whether in new business or consent, but as you will see I have a couple of questions for the commissioners included.
A few minutes later I received a terse response, not from Carol Akers, but from Commissioner Brower, which read, in part:
The rules for the agenda is that information needs to be in 3 days before before (sic) that Tuesday if I’m not mistaken to avoid all of the amendments to the agenda unless it is something that has to be discussed and decided upon and cannot wait until the next meeting.”
That’s pretty rich coming from the same commissioner who just a few months ago brought three last-minute amendments of her own to a meeting, including one item that was a rehash of a matter the board had already settled with me, and that I had no intention of revisiting.
I’ll see y’all next Tuesday.