Up & Coming Weekly

June 04, 2019

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

Issue link: http://www.epageflip.net/i/1125688

Contents of this Issue


Page 14 of 32

14 UCW JUNE 5-11, 2019 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM COVER STORY Official investigation exonerates Hope Mills mayor by JEFF THOMPSON, EARL VAUGHAN JR. and ELIZABETH BLEVINS Editor's note: May 29, the Hope Mills Board of Commis- sioners met to hear the results of an investigation by the law firm Cauley Pridgen P.A. into the 2018 proposed sale of Lakebed #2, property owned by Hope Mills. e potential buyer was a nonprofit called Lone Survivor Foundation. LSF intended to purchase town property for development of a retreat center for military service members suffering from the aftereffects of war. e in- vestigation by Cauley Pridgen P.A. cost the town's taxpayers $26,000 and took five months to complete. It absolved Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner and her son, Teddy Warner, of any wrong- doing in relation to dealings with LSF. An excerpt from the official report by Cauley Prid- gen P.A.: e specific scope of the assignment was as follows: e Hope Mills Board of Commissioners commissioned an investigation into (1) allegations of ethical misconduct by members of the town of Hope Mills Board of Commissioners (mayor and commis- sioners) and town staff pertaining to various sections of the town's code of ethics and conduct for town of- ficials; and (2) allegations of inappropriate protocols used by all parties during the decision-making pro- cess regarding all official correspondence and efforts to purchase/lease municipal property presented or submitted by the Lone Survivor Foundation to the town of Hope Mills during the period of December 1, 2017 to November 6, 2018. e investigation by Jeff ompson James P. Cauley III, president of Cauley Pridgen P.A., is an acknowledged expert in municipal law. Cauley is a certified superior court mediator and has served as a legal instructor at Campbell Uni- versity School of Law, Barton College and Wilson Technical College. He was a charter member of the Council for the North Carolina Bar Association's Government and Public Sector section and is also a past chairman of that section. In his report to the Hope Mills Board of Commis- sioners, Cauley repeatedly indicated he wasn't exact- ly sure what the board wanted from him other than the lengthy written report. He made a live 50-minute presentation referring to his notes. He acknowledged that his findings would likely not satisfy everyone. Cauley learned during his investigation that the mayor and some members of the board were at odds with one another. A significant determination was that, in his opin- ion, Mayor Jackie Warner did not act improperly by not immediately informing commissioners of LSF's interest in the property at Lakebed #2. Cauley noted that typically, mayors and town managers learn of economic opportunities before the interest becomes commonly known. He said Warner's initial awareness of LSF's interest in the site and her presentation to the board in a closed meeting were insignificant. Cauley noted Warner had worked well with boards of commissioners during her eight years in office, but that "when the new board took office in December of 2017, that relationship changed." He declared it appeared at times that the mayor's endorsement of a matter would automatically trigger opposition by certain members of the board. Cauley did not name the members, but Mayor pro tem Mike Mitchell and Commissioner Meg Larson have been outspoken in their opposition to Warner. Cauley went on to say that "2018 was a time of transition into the new roles and board members' expectations." In 2018, after squabbling during numerous pub- lic meetings and closed sessions, the town board decided not to entertain an offer from the LSF to purchase town property. Cauley concluded that the mayor, board mem- bers and town staff did not engage in unethical lapses of judgment or intentional misbehavior. His overall conclusion was that allegations of miscon- duct by any party were unfounded. Mayor Warner and Commissioner Edwards by Earl Vaughan Jr. Cauley said his probe into dealings between the town of Hope Mills and LSF came down to two central issues. "It is attributable to a combination of rookie mis- takes and changing governance policies,'' he said. In short, newcomers to the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners unfamiliar with how cooperative government works over-reached in their jobs and de- veloped a hostile relationship with Warner, who had been serving with previous boards since 2011 with no conflicts nearly as unpleasant as this one became. Pat Edwards, the lone Hope Mills commissioner on the current board who consistently backed Warner following the new board's arrival after the 2017 elections, said the new members of the board didn't realize the board needed to work together and not venture out on individual missions. Edwards said Warner has been active in her role as mayor, dealing with organizations and boards around Fayetteville and Cumberland County, representing Hope Mills and making numerous connections with other government leaders. "She knows so many people," Edwards said. "She is the mayor and should be respected as the mayor." is issue has been deeply personal for the mayor, as attacks have been mounted not only on her but on her son Teddy Warner, who was involved with the presentation made by the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Commission on behalf of the Lone Survivor project. When Cauley exoner- ated Teddy of any hint of wrongdoing or standing to benefit from any of his work on behalf of LSF, the mayor said she was thinking the whole time that prayers are answered. "at is one thing we've prided ourselves on as parents and members of the community — character and integrity,'' Warner said. "Do what you say and always be a good public servant." In defense of Warner's son, Cauley noted that Teddy had nothing to gain financially from his role in the Lone Survivor presentation and that there was no mention of a benefit for him. "It appears he was per- forming his job duties as assigned, (with) the added personal incentive he genuinely thought he was bring- ing a coveted project to his hometown, a town in need of economic development opportunities,'' Cauley said. Cauley said his investigation showed previous boards gave Warner more freedom to exercise her leadership, giving deference to her acting inde- pendently as the town's chief ambassador. at relationship began to change when the new board was seated. "It appears at times the mayor's en- dorsement of a matter could automatically prompt opposition,'' Cauley said. A specific case in point involved the board's reaction to its failure to renew an agreement with a professor at the University of North Carolina- Pembroke. e agreement involved contracting the professor's students to create sculptures to be displayed at various points around town. Warner did not bring the matter of renewal to the board's attention; it was reported the previous year, and board members knew they had to vote to renew the agreement to continue getting the art. When Up & Coming Weekly published a story about the failure of the board to renew the agreement, the board called a special meeting to deal with the story. Commissioner Larson accused the story's reporter of fabricating comments by the UNC-Pembroke profes- sor. is reporter categorically denies that accusation and stands fully by the accuracy of the comment. e comment the professor made about how the board handled the art contract basically repeated what Cauley said in his report about the board tend- ing to reject anything Warner supports. e result was a vote of no confidence in the mayor by the board. While the board has the legal right to set the limits of the mayor's power, after Warner had a freer hand as mayor under previous boards, Cauley suggested the sudden switch in what the mayor can and can't do could be a handicap for all involved. "eir effectiveness in governing the jurisdiction depends entirely on the personalities involved,'' Cauley said. "Hardball politics can make a board ineffective or dysfunctional.'' James P. Cauley III, left, determined that allegations of misconduct by any party in dealings between the town of Hope Mills and Lone Survivor Foundation were unfounded. Mayor Jackie Warner, center, was the primary target of such allegations and now stands exonerated. Many involved said the future of Hope Mills lies in moving forward. Photo credit for Hope Mills Lake, right: Trey Snipes

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Up & Coming Weekly - June 04, 2019