FAIRMONT — Fairmont commissioners argued about forming an economic development committee, but took no action after accusing Mayor Charles Townsend of going rogue in that effort— a claim the mayor denies.
The discussion lasted 13 minutes, with Townsend and several commissioners raising their voices and cutting each other off.
During the board’s June meeting, Commissioner Terry Evans suggested forming a committee to encourage economic development in Fairmont. The matter concluded with Townsend asking each commissioner to come to the board’s August meeting with the name of a person to potentially appoint. The matter was not listed on Tuesday’s agenda and Evans asked that it be added to new business.
“At this point you have asked me and everybody to bring a name for a person to serve on the board. In the meantime, I’ve been invited to a meeting Thursday and we may need to do this and we may not even need to do this because of this meeting Thursday,” Townsend said.
Commissioner Monte McCallum questioned Townsend about the committee.
“So the committee was chosen out of the blue?” McCallum said. “… Don’t you think it’s common sense for a mayor to advise his commissioners about what’s going on if he’s putting in place a committee?”
Townsend insisted he had not formed a committee. According to Greg Cummings, economic development director for the county, the committee meeting Thursday was initiated by a Fairmont businessperson who approached his office. It is separate from the North Carolina Small Town Main Street program, on which Townsend serves as coordinator and Commissioner Carol Leak-McKenzie serves as chairperson.
The discussion grew heated as McCallum continued to question Townsend, and Townsend tried to move the meeting along, even after Evans offered a motion to dismantle the committee the board had discussed forming in June. Evans also said he was not told about the committee meeting Thursday.
Although no vote was taken, the discussion concluded after Commissioner Wade Sealey motioned to table talk about the board-appointed committee.
“Let’s use common sense and let this thing slide til next month. It’s not going to hurt 30 more days,” he said.
After the meeting, Townsend referred a reporter’s questions about the committee meeting on Thursday to acting Town Manager Linda Vause, who said the meeting would also include Cummings and members of the Fairmont Chamber of Commerce.
Talk about the conflicting committees was not point of contention addressed Tuesday.
Vause used the manager’s input portion of the meeting to deny “rumors” that she earns a salary of $125,048 and that Town Clerk Jenny Larson earns more than $58,000.
Vause earns $55,000 and Clark $39,411.
Although Vause did not say where the rumors had originated, Evans had requested a special meeting to discuss finances, and after Tuesday’s meeting said that would no longer be necessary since Vause had answered concerns about her salary.
The $125,000 figure, listed in the town’s financial reports as expenditures for the Finance Department, represents Vause’s salary as acting town manager and finance officer, salary for another employee, insurance for both, telephone, legal advertising and other departmental costs, Vause said.
In other business, the board:
— Heard from a Guardian ad Litem representative who said the organization, which represents children in court, is seeking volunteers as well as donations of suitcases to help foster children move and with Christmas presents.
— Heard from Kelly Johnson, who is coordinating this year’s Farmers Festival. Johnson said festival committee will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Fairmont courthouse and is seeking the public’s input.
— Took no action on removing a dilapidated warehouse. Vause said the owner of the property is being sent a letter with a deadline to demolish the structure before the town pursues legal action.
— Authorized the town clerk to investigate a petition requesting voluntary annexation for property at 1809 Marion Stage Road.
— Adopted a resolution to advertise an offer from Fairmont Arts and Culture Center LLC to purchase a building at 311 S. Main St. for $100. Fairmont Arts and Culture Center has already purchased buildings at 309 and 319 Main St.
— Adopted a resolution to advertise an offer from Dwight Taylor to purchase property at the intersection of Happy Hill and Industrial Drive for $1,000.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.