Showing posts with label meetings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meetings. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Closed Town Meeting October 4

After completion of the agenda, Commissioner Bohmert moved to close the meeting for "personnel."

I think I have mentioned this before, but the relevant provision of NC General Statutes has no general "personnel" exception to the Open Meetings Law. There are in fact four separate purposes relating to personnel, and the motion to go into closed session must specify which one. They are:

a: To establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiations of the amount of compensation or other terms of an employment contract.
b: To consider the qualifications, competence, performance, condition of appointment of a public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee.
c: To hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against a public officer or employee.
d: To plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations or alleged criminal conduct.

Neither I nor anyone else attending tonight's meeting has any idea which of the above authorized purposes was effected by the closed meeting.

The meeting was, therefore, improperly closed.

If any member of the Board of Commissioners is interested in making a correct motion to go into closed session, I recommend the model motion posted on the web site of  Western Carolina University here.

Oriental Town Meeting October 4, 2011: Rainy Day?

Bizarre town meeting tonight. Only four commissioners present (Commissioner Styron was absent).

After an interminable discussion of minutes, the board considered a request by the town manager to amend the budget. Purpose: to appropriate funds to pay bills incurred and projected for hurricane clean up and remediation, including mosquito control. When two commissioners pointed out that there are still unexpended funds in the budget, the manager explained that he has no authority to expend those funds for any purpose other than the authorized line items. Except for hurricane expenditures, the approved budget is being implemented with no problems. He further explained that hurricane expenditures will be reimbursed 75% by FEMA and 25% by the State of North Carolina. The purpose of the amendment is to allow the town to pay its bills before FEMA and state reimbursements are received.

"Well what if they don't reimburse us?" Commissioner Johnson asked. "I'm worried that the Oriental taxpayers will be stuck with the bill."

After reiterating that he has negotiated the details both with FEMA and the state and explaining that he is carefully establishing a project number for each job, following FEMA guidelines, the manager posed a key question. Suppose there were no FEMA and no funds from the state. Is there anything the town is doing (debris pickup, mosquito control, etc.) that the board wouldn't want the town to do anyway. He received no answer.

The board rejected the motion to approve the budget amendment.

Commissioner Johnson then introduced a new motion to approve a smaller amount than requested for hurricane debris pickup and for mosquito control.

A similar series of actions first rejected a requested amendment to the water fund, and then approved a lower amount than requested.

"Oh, we don't want to dip into the reserve fund," Commissioners Johnson, Roe and Bohmert explained.

In many states, the reserve fund is known as the "rainy day fund."

We just had a very rainy day (Irene) and the health and welfare of the residents of Oriental are seriously threatened. And our commissioners want to dither about whether to pay for contracted services for which we will be reimbursed.

Looks like tonight was another rainy day at the meeting.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New Town Dock Project

It was a good turnout last night at the town board meeting. Standing room only. Almost every attendee spoke during the public comment period. All but one were in favor of the project and that one wasn't vehemently opposed. The Board voted unanimously to go forward.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

White Smoke over Town Hall

Oriental residents claim to have seen white smoke from the chimneys at Town Hall. Could it signal the election of a permanent Town Manager?

It has been about six weeks shy of a year since the Town last had a permanent manager. During much of that time, some commissioners even disputed that the town had a council-manager form of government. It does.

The firing, last July 1, was not Oriental's finest hour. No item on the agenda that night suggested that the manager's removal would be considered. The Town had previously spent more than $20,000 for an employment attorney to "investigate," in apparent hopes that she would find some legal cause to fire the manager. Apparently she didn't.

The motion to terminate the manager's employment was made at the end of a long meeting, as a "non-agenda item," simply introduced by the commissioner who had been fetched to the meeting earlier by the Chief of Police at the direction of one of the Town's part time secretarial employees.

To say that this was an improper exercise of the Town Board's legislative and investigative powers is an understatement. The lack of proper notice was a clear violation of North Carolina's open meetings act.

The account of the proceedings that appeared on a local web site here accurately describes what I saw that night, with some additional details that the reporter witnessed personally.

Without arguing the merits of the board's decision that evening or whether the board had the power to take the action (the Commissioner who made the motion accurately asserted that the Board has the power to terminate the manager without any reason), it is also true that the Board never gave the manager the opportunity, either in closed session or open session, to confront his accusers, to be given any information as to the board's views of what he might need to correct.

In short, it was an irregular, illegal (from the standpoint of public notice), underhanded and less than courageous procedure.

It would be good in the future if the board would remove the "non - agenda item" category from the monthly agenda and follow a procedure similar to that used by the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners. The chair of that body asks the commissioners at the beginning of the meeting whether any commissioner has an item to remove or add to the agenda. If the commissioners agree unanimously, the chair then formally modifies the agenda. This procedure is used sparingly, but gives the board some flexibility to deal with last minute emerging issues.

The issue of the town manager's employment was not a last-minute emerging issue.

I hope the members who went along with this kangaroo court procedure have reflected on their actions and resolved to do better in the future.

I understand an announcement will be made at a Town Board meeting at 5:00 pm April 21.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What's the Hurry?

A local media outlet described the pending amendment to Oriental's Growth Management Ordinance as including "a provision to grant automatic rezoning approvals."

This is not completely accurate. In fact, the draft amendment to GMO Article XV would apply to any amendment to any provision of our zoning regulations, not only amendments to the growth management map. It would apply to changes in setbacks, for example, to height limitations, to density provisions or any other zoning rule. The proposal would provide automatic granting of any application for any amendment if the Board of Commissioners fails to take final action on the application within 95 days of their first meeting to consider the application.

What's the hurry?

The good news is that the Board of Commissioners has returned the draft to the Planning Board.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Town Board Meeting Sept 7 2010

Last night's meeting of the Oriental Town Board was reasonably uneventful. Highlights:

1. The first item on the agenda, approval of minutes, only took eighteen minutes this time. There seem to be remaining issues in the area of drafting minutes that report what was done, rather than what was said. Another problem seems to be to rid the minutes of editorial asides and characterizations of the commissioners' thoughts. Commissioner Roe is leading the effort to improve the minutes. Good for her.

2. The continued public hearing on rezoning of Mr. Friedman's property on Midyette Street was continued again at Mr. Friedman's request. Mr. Friedman was not present.

3. The Board went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter. The Town Attorney, Scott Davis, had to leave early and apparently his presence was required during the closed session.
So the closed session was held early in the evening rather than at the end.

4. The Board received an update on the work of the surveyor hired by the town to determine the location of South Water Street. His report also raised the issue of the width of the right-of-way. Following a lengthy discussion, the Board established the width of the South Water Street right of way as 36 feet. The board briefly considered the issue of what is allowed to be placed in the right of way by adjacent landowners and concluded the existing ordinances are adequate.

5. During the public comment period, Pat Herlands suggested the Board should consider having a second business meeting each month, as the County Commissioners do. She pointed out that the Board increasingly takes action each month during the agenda meeting, and supported recognizing that fact by scheduling a second meeting.

6. During the period set aside for non-agenda items, Commissioner Roe moved to amend the minutes of the June 1 meeting to accurately reflect the motion that was made concerning employee insurance. She went on to introduce an amendment to the Town's personnel ordinance to reflect decisions made about employee insurance during the budget process.

Editorial comment: Not mentioned during this discussion, but mentioned at two recent Board meetings, is that the Town's personnel ordinance, adopted by the 2005 - 2007 Board, asserts that we have a mayor-council form of government. We now know for certain that the Town has a council-manager form of government. Personnel policies may be significantly different between the two systems. Someone needs to review our existing manual to identify necessary amendments, if any.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

End "Complaint-Based System"

If I were asked what qualities or views I would seek in a new Town manager, at the top of my list would be the abandonment of the "complaint-based system" concept.

Our Town manager, the Chief of Police, the Mayor, and other elected and appointed officials keep reciting the mantra that we have a complaint based system of enforcing the Town's ordinances. If this is true, we should abandon the system.

Otherwise, we set neighbor against neighbor.

We saw the consequences of "complaint-based system" last Thursday. The Board of Commissioners seemed unable to resolve a neighborhood dispute, even after spending $1500 that was not budgeted.

If there arise in the course of Town affairs disputes between neighbors, the proper place to resolve such disputes is the courthouse in Bayboro. The Board of Commissioners is not a court and cannot rule in favor of one or the other disputant. What the Town Board is supposed to do, is make the rules (ordinances) that apply to everyone and rely on the Town manager and subordinate departments for enforcement.

Requiring a complaint to initiate enforcement results in inherently inconsistent, arbitrary and unfair enforcement.

If the Town is not going to enforce an ordinance, the Board shouldn't pass it. If an unenforceable or unenforced ordinance remains on the books, it should be repealed. (I tried to do that last year with the chicken ordinance, without success).

Then the Police Chief, the Town Manager, etc. could simply enforce the ordinance anywhere in town against any resident, owner or business, without requiring a citizen complaint.

All too often, when a citizen complaint initiates action, another citizen makes a counter complaint and the Town Board members choose up sides, perhaps based on personal animosities or likes and dislikes, rather than enforcement of existing ordinances or judging what new ordinances or amendments are best for the Town.

That's no way to run a government.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Special Meeting of Oriental Town Board Aug 26

Oriental's Town Board met at 4:00 p.m. today, August 26, 2010 in special session. Commissioner Styron was unable to attend.

The main reason for calling the meeting - to appoint an interim Town Manager - was delayed until the end of the meeting. Items were discussed as follows:

1. Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District and the Town of Oriental continue to negotiate in an attempt to conclude an interlocal agreement. The main issue is the price the Town charges Bay River to provide billing services, including collecting payments and remitting them to the utility. About two years ago, at the recommendation of the Town's representative on Bay River's Board (Nancy Inger) the Town increased the monthly fee to $1.50 per household. Bay River proposed an agreement that would freeze this rate for five years. The previous board found that unacceptable and wanted to set a level that would not lose money. They also wanted to establish an automatic escalator clause in case Bay River were to increase their rates. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year. The absence of a contract was identified in last year's audit as a control deficiency.

2. South Water Street. The Board played "kick the can" with this issue as well. The Town retained a surveyor who had never surveyed in Oriental or perhaps even in Pamlico County, to determine where South Water Street's right of way lies in hopes of resolving a neighborhood dispute. The report, which arrived today, described how the R/W line was surveyed and marked. Now the contentious issue is "how wide is it?" The surveyor reports some maps show it 36' wide, some 40', some 45' and at least one shows the R/W as 60.' He marked the R/W with stakes at a width of 40'. The Board decided to table the issue until next week's agenda meeting, though it was unclear exactly what was tabled. Commissioners Bohmert and Roe advocated just setting the R/W width at 36' since this width was encompassed within all of the possible widths. This was rejected by Commissioners Johnson and Venturi. Mayor Sage broke the tie, voting with Johnson and Venturi.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that a surveyor familiar with Oriental and its history would have given far greater weight to the original survey of 1900, which shows the width as 36'. Another factor to consider is that if the Town tries to claim a wider R/W than 36', they may have difficulty defending it in court. The survey has already cost the Town $1200.

3. South Avenue Right of Way. Mayor Sage reported that he has met with Mr. Lacy Henry. Mr. Henry has "given the Town permission" to remove the fence. Why the Town needs Mr. Henry's permission to remove a fence in the Town's R/W was not explained. Heidi Artley reported she has received one bid from a contractor to remove the fence at a cost of $1200. Two more bids are expected. Some of the commissioners seemed unaware that a decision had been made to hire a contractor for this job. No mention was made of whether the Town would send the bill to Mr. Henry. Some mention was made of the contractor cleaning up debris and identifying items of historical interest. As I reported here three months ago, the items of greatest historical interest disappeared not long after the judge signed his order. Removed by a person or persons unknown.

Incidentally, one of the commissioners reported some time ago an interest in a grant application, which opened June 15. Well, that deadline (Boating Infrastructure Grant program) has passed and nothing was submitted. What will it take to get some action?

4. Amendment to Town Charter. It was Alice DeBaun who provided information that the Town had adopted an ordinance in 1997 amending the Town Charter to Council-Manager form of government. Apparently for some reason it wasn't filed with the Secretary of State and the Legislative Library. I informed the Board that a similar circumstance appears to exist concerning the amendment to have five commissioners instead of three.

It was the council-manager amendment to the charter that required the Board to appoint an interim manager. They went into closed session to discuss personnel, even though Commissioner Roe tried to make a nomination in open session.

Following the closed session, Commissioner Venturi moved to appoint Heidi Artley as interim manager, seconded by Commissioner Johnson. Commissioners Bohmert and Roe voted against the motion. Mayor Sage broke the tie by voting in favor.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Sage said this is a major step to "making right" what we did during a nearly three month interim, in the mistaken impression that the Town had a mayor-council form of government.

The meeting adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Secret Meeting

Here it is! The long-awaited audio recording of the "Secret Meeting" between County Board of Elections Chair David Cox and Board Member Ed Credle during recess of the March 23 2010 Board meeting!

This is the recording that cost Pamlico County taxpayers $1,400 when Board Member Judy Smith consulted the county attorney about:
1) whether or not a recording she made of the March 23, 2010 Board of Elections meeting was a “public record” which she was therefore obliged to turn over to the Board’s custodian of records; and

2) if so, whether nineteen seconds of audio captured by her recorder when she left it running during a recess of the meeting is also a public record.


Ms. Smith recorded the March 23, 2010 BOE meeting in her capacity as Secretary in order to aid her in preparing minutes. She then refused multiple requests to provide the Board’s custodian of records with the recording. She also subsequently refused to provide recordings she made of the Board’s April 5, April 13, and April 20 meetings.

At the Board’s April 27 meeting, Ms. Smith was again asked to provide the recording to the Board as a public record, and she stated she would not provide the recording unless and until I and Mr. Credle agreed to “explain” to her satisfaction several comments she had recorded during a recess when she was outside the room.

I did not believe Ms. Smith had the right to hold recordings of public meetings as hostage for any reason, so I made a written demand under North Carolina General Statutes 132-5 that she turn over the recording. Ms. Smith contacted the county attorney, who explained that a recording of a public meeting made by the Secretary of a body to assist in preparing meeting minutes is a “public record,” and not a “personal” recording. Ms. Smith finally turned over a copy of the recording to the Board’s custodian of records.

As for the recording made during the recess, contrary to assertions made elsewhere, the county attorney never "advised [that the] segment of the recording [made during the recess] is a public document and is a part of the meeting business." The attorney never even listened to the recording to evaluate its content and determine whether the recess conversation actually involved Board of Elections “business.” Instead, he simply took his client's (Ms. Smith’s) assertions as true (as attorneys generally do when writing opinion letters to client inquiries);
“You [Ms. Smith] believe that a portion of the tape recording during the recess includes discussions regard Board of Elections’ business…If any of these assumptions or facts are incorrect… my opinion may change accordingly…"
- Jimmie B. Hicks, Jr. letter of May 6, 2010

Now that Ms. Smith has turned over the recording, including the portion recorded during the recess, we can all listen and determine whether Mr. Credle or I broke any rules.

The Accusations

Mr. George Smith wrote a letter to the editor of the County Compass newspaper asserting that two portions of the recess discussion violated open records and/or open meetings laws:
1) a discussion between Mr. Cox and Mr. Credle about some complaints made by members of the public during the public comments portion of the meeting; and
2) comments about a number of potential voter registration challenges.

The Rules:

What are the rules about two Board members speaking to each other while the third member is not present?

As of May 28th, the rule was: "it is within the law for a board chairman or member to meet individually and privately with each other to discuss a public matter if no action is taken through these individual meetings." Don Wright, General Counsel, State Board of Elections.

Recently the State Board has promulgated a new rule: "Members of county boards of election should refrain from two-person conversations touching on subjects that may come before the board for a decision. Conversations that concern elections but do not touch on subjects that may come before the board for decisions are not in violation of the law and are permissible." - Robert P. Joyce, UNC School of Government July 8, 2010.

In explaining the new rule, Mr. Joyce also made clear that conversations between a Board member and BOE staff members are not covered under the Open Meetings Act.

The Substance - Where is the Violation?

The second question is whether any of the above rules were violated by anyone who was recorded by Ms. Smith during the recess.

First, we should listen to what was said:

(Note: for some reason unknown to me, you may have to hit the "play" button twice to start the player)

(my best attempt of a transcript appears below, at the end of this posting)

In the recording, Mr. Credle and I have a brief exchange about things said by several speakers during the public comment period concerning events that allegedly occurred during the election of 2008. The deadline to file a protest of the 2008 election was November 18, 2008, 16 months before the meeting and conversations about which Mr. Smith complained took place. There was no way the Board could have taken any action on the allegations and complaints made by the speakers, no matter how well-founded they might have been.

Next you will hear SBOE District Election Technician Rosemary Blizzard wondering why the Board spent so much time discussing a number of potential voter registration challenges, commenting that the challengers should simply submit their challenges for consideration and decision by the Board. Pamlico County Director of Elections Lisa Bennett also jokingly suggested that the Board simply vote to remove all challenged voters. I responded to these comments with noncommittal “yeah”s, indicating I heard and understood what the staff members were saying, but giving no substantive responses in order to protect my complete impartiality in the event the potential challenges were brought before the Board for a quasi-judicial hearing and decision.

How does a brief discussion between Board Members Mr. Credle and myself about allegations upon which the Board had no power to act violate any of these rules?

How do comments made by BOE staff members to a Board Member about any matter whatsoever violate any of these rules?

Now we can all listen and decide for ourselves whether anything in the recess recording is a public document or reveals a violation of the NC Open Meetings Act.


Ed Credle: Give me a hand. (laughter)

Ed Credle: Give up, give up a "Jesse Jackson." (as Mr. Cox gave a hand to help Mr. Credle stand up) There ya go. Thank you. (laughing)

Dave Cox: Alright.

Ed Credle: I need to straighten up a little (sighs)…

Dave Cox: Yeah

Ed Credle: Gee. Thank you.

Dave Cox: Well, heh-heh.

Ed Credle: I’m catchin’ it.

Dave Cox: Yeah?

Ed Credle: Yeah. Yep. [indiscernible]

Dave Cox: I hope you can see who they focused on uh you know, Mesic and who they were looking at real closely in Oriental?

Ed Credle: Ha, ha. Yeah. OK, well we can take care of that.

Dave Cox: Yeah.

Lisa Bennett (entering room): Mr. Credle, I think I caught you napping [laughter]

Ed Credle: Almost. Wow. Almost. [laughter continues]

Rosemary Blizzard: [indistinct] ten minutes [indistinct].

Ed Credle: You got it.

Lisa Bennett: It’s still on (referring to audio recorder)

Rosemary Blizzard: Why are we discussing? Just turn it in. Y’all do the voting.

Dave Cox: Yeah.

Rosemary Blizzard: If you vote “no” you vote “no.”

Dave Cox: Yeah. It’s OK.

Rosemary Blizzard: Majority rules.

Lisa Bennett: Just vote “yes” so I can take them off, OK? [snickers].

Dave Cox: Yeah.

Lisa Bennett: "[indiscernible/laughing] Just get rid of ‘em."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meeting Minutes

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what goes into minutes of official meetings of government bodies.

Early this year, when Oriental Town Commissioners reviewed draft minutes, newly-elected Commissioner Jennifer Roe made it quite clear: minutes record what was done, not what was said. This general rule applies no matter what the nature of the body. Otherwise approval of the minutes becomes a reiteration of every argument raised at the previous meeting and so on, ad infinitum.

As for public records, any correspondence concerning the business of a board becomes a public record, including audio and video recordings of public meetings. The custodian of all public records of the County Board of Elections is Lisa Bennett, the Director of Elections.

Since the meeting of the County Board of Elections held March 23, 2010, all minutes have included the following statement: "An audio recording was made of the proceedings. A copy has been provided as a public record to the Director of Elections, who will maintain it in accordance with the Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for County and Municipal Boards of Elections, dated October 7, 2002."

Any citizen who wants a copy of any of these records should contact Lisa Bennett at the County Board of Elections - 745-4821.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Closed Minutes Again

I hate to keep bringing this up.

Last week Oriental's Town Board Meeting Agenda included an item to consider opening previously closed minutes relating to legal considerations about the Town's South Avenue lawsuit. The board decided to postpone action until the next agenda meeting.

Say what?

Last year the outgoing Town Board reviewed the closed minutes and decided that once the South Avenue lawsuit was over, the minutes would be released to the public. The case is over. The Town won. I didn't make a big stink about it, but I believed at the time, after reviewing the minutes, that the condition established in North Carolina's Open Meetings Law for their release already existed last December. The law is summarized here.

I decided not to wait any longer. I have submitted a written request for copies of the South Avenue minutes. I think the public has a right to know what went on in those closed sessions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oriental Commissioners Approve Minutes

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal. Still, since the new board was sworn in December 1 of last year, this is the first time the commissioners unanimously approved a set of minutes.

Turning to substantive business the commissioners adopted a Special Project Ordinance for the refurbished fishing reef, as well as a budget amendment to establish transparency concerning where the money came from and how it is spent. This should have been done in 2007 when the project began. With the Special Project Ordinance, supporters of the reef project can continue to contribute indefinitely. There will be no time limit on when the funds must be spent. The project does not include any Oriental tax funds. One effect is that the approximately $20,000 collected to date for the project will no longer be counted as part of the town's unrestricted fund balance. It never should have been so counted, in any event.

In other business, the Board filled two of the three vacant slots on the town's Tourism Board, appointing Missy Baskervill, a resident of Arapahoe, and Grace Evans, a resident of Oriental who has long been active in promoting the town. The tourism board's substantial budget comes from the town's occupancy tax, the only tax the town collects for itself.

In addition to the vacancy on the tourism board, there is a vacancy on the planning board and three vacancies on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Though it was not on tonight's agenda, Commissioner Warren Johnson has initiated efforts to reactivate the town's Water Board, hopefully in time for the visit by the Rural Water Center, who will begin an audit of our system March 17.

Notwithstanding these longstanding board vacancies, the commissioners discussed requests from the Planning Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to establish additional advisory committees. More openings for volunteers.

After agreeing to proclamations for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week and Arbor Day, the Board went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter. When they returned to open session, they continued tonight's meeting until March 8 at 4:00, probably to return to closed session.

Remember Arbor Day! March 20 at 9:30 a.m. at Lupton Park. Agenda: replace the destroyed magnolia.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Town Board Special Meeting - Interim Audit

The Town of Oriental has called a special meeting for February 10 to discuss "interim professional accounting/auditing assistance, and to address additional personnel matters."

This appears to be for the purpose of addressing a proposal made by Commissioner Venturi at last Tuesday's town board meeting that the town contract with the auditing firm of Pittard, Perry and Crone to perform a mid-term audit. The cost: $2400. The reason: "the books haven't been balanced since October."

This is a superficially reasonable proposal that completely misses the point of an audit.

The reason that municipal audits are governed by the NC Local Government Commission is because the LGC is the agency that issues bonds on behalf of towns. Audits are for three purposes:
(a) to determine the financial health of the municipality (we are healthy);
(b) to verify that enterprise funds like the town's water system are financially separated from other funds, including the general fund (our audit raised a problem about that, but the Town Board had already identified the problem and was working to correct it);
(c) to determine that financial controls as required by state law are in place. Our auditor identified a number of problems in that area (e.g. lack of a purchase order system) that have existed for years.

What the audit doesn't do is "balance the books."

If there is, as alleged, a problem with the books, we need to identify the problem we're trying to solve. Then decide what is the proper instrument to solve it.

If the problem is that the books don't balance (whatever that means) or that the bank statements can't be reconciled, or that the town manager (as he admitted Tuesday) has made some incorrect Bay River entries, we don't need an auditor to correct that. We need a bookkeeper. We used to have a part-time bookkeeper. What happened?

Even if there is no present problem with the books, we should retain a bookkeeper.

It never occurred to me when we hired Mr. Cahoon that we were looking for a qualified bookkeeper. We shouldn't be paying him as much as we do to keep the books. He needs to manage. He needs to watch budget line items. He needs to make recommendations about budget amendments or other changes in priority in a timely fashion and bring problems to the Town Board's attention. He needs to supervise the town's affairs.

An auditor is not a bookkeeper. No one on town staff, so far as I know is a qualified bookkeeper.

The town should hire a part time bookkeeper.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Town Board Meeting

Last night's (Feb 2) meeting of Oriental's Town Board was another discouraging excursion into recriminations. Most of the acrimony was on the sidelines, but for those who have been following town affairs, it was evident.

In January, one of the commissioners voted against adopting the minutes. Last night, all of the commissioners rejected the minutes. There was a lot of back and forth about audits and bookkeeping. One of the commissioners suggested scheduling a mid term audit, though exactly what the problem is to which that would be a solution was not apparent. In any event, she got no support for the idea.

Not brought up explicitly, but implicit in the agenda meeting and in other discussions is an alleged requirement for emergency access to the town manager's inner sanctum. Again, it is unclear what the problem is to which this is the solution. Nor does the discussion address the very real problem of protecting the integrity of sensitive personal and financial information which it is the town's duty to protect and of which the town manager is the custodian.

We need to get beyond the blame game and associated personal acrimony and into the business of identifying problems and developing solutions.

I have some ideas, which I will share over the next few days.

In the meantime, I have to get ready for a meeting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Closed Sessions

Most meetings of the Town Board are required to be held in public. North Carolina General Statutes recognize a handful of circumstances (lawyer-client privilege, negotiating a real estate deal, etc.) where meetings may be held in closed session, and some (personnel matters) that must be held in closed session. In all cases, before going into closed session, the board must declare the reason. Minutes must be kept of closed sessions and the minutes must be opened when the matter is no longer necessary to remain closed.

I have asked that at least the closed session minutes of the past two years be reviewed, and that we take action at the next meeting of the Town Board to open all possible minutes. I would like to go as far back as possible, into the records of previous boards as well, to correct this oversight.

I have found that we were not always careful to confine our closed session discussion to the reason declared. We need to be more careful in the future. As a practical matter, I think no harm was done, though we should be somewhat embarrassed. Still, we need to make most of the minutes public, except for discussions of personnel and a few other matters, which must remain closed.

We need to be scrupulous about complying with the open meetings act.