December 25, 2013
First impressions can be wrong. If a first impression, though, is followed up by a very similar feeling, then it might be time to express concern.
Now let’s talk about the new mayor and city council in Hamlet. In November, voters put in two new council members — Jesse McQueen and Eddie Martin — and elected Bill Bayless to the mayor’s spot. Former Mayor Jeff Smart chose not to seek re-election. Same goes for former council woman Abbie Covington.
Much of the discussion leading up to the November election was about transparency in government. At least two of the new elected officials in Richmond County’s second largest city promised to be more open. At least one sitting council member questioned why discussion of any sort among elected officials ever took place behind closed doors.
It was slightly discouraging, then, to see the new mayor and council’s very first action in office be to vote to go into executive, or closed, session.
Twenty-five minutes later, Bayless reconvened the public meeting, spectators were permitted back into the council chamber and the board voted 3-2 to oust longtime city attorney SteveFutrell.
Not much reason has been given as to why Futrell was not re-appointed to the position, though each council member and City Manager Marchell David did take a moment to thank Futrell for his service to the city. We imagine that expression of gratitude was difficult for Futrell to take given it came on the heels of his termination.
So at some point last week, someone within the city of Hamlet decided that void needed to be filled immediately, even if on an interim basis. And someone scheduled an emergency meeting for 5:30 p.m. Monday “to discuss the hiring of a temporary city attorney.”
The Daily Journal would have been there to cover the meeting — except we didn’t know about it. Notification from City Hall to the newspaper was not made at least 48 hours before the meeting, as state law dictates. What’s even more disconcerting, though, is that a reporter from The Daily Journal called City Hall at approximately 11:38 a.m. Monday to ask about the dates of upcoming council meetings — whenever they might be. The person who answered the phone failed to mention Monday’s meeting.
Here at the Journal, we’re concerned for the city of Hamlet and everyone who lives there. Transparency in government is about the public’s right to know. And right now, there seems to be a lot we don’t know. That’s one issue. The other is why what is public information seems to be so secretive in Hamlet.
We take Mayor Bill Bayless and council members at their collective word that they seek a more open, positive environment. Time will tell, however, whether or not their actions are in accordance with their words. For now, we remain cautiously optimistic.