Hamlet deserves better

By Lisa Van Kersen Guest Columnist

April 24, 2014

As a spectator in the last few Hamlet City Council sessions, I stand in awe of the out right disregard, disrespect, and pure prejudice displayed in such a public forum.

The contract of Marchell Adams-David seems to be council’s biggest item on numerous agendas and closed sessions, with the last session ultimately voiding Mrs. David’s contract. Hamlet’s new, high dollar Chapel Hill law firm did say that there were items to be addressed in the contract, but that ultimately, it was similar to others the firm had reviewed for other city managers. Three members of council motioned, voted, and voided Mrs. David’s contract, but retained her employment. These actions bring to question the other element the new city attorney stated, but went apparently unheard: the document was essentially legal, binding, and enforceable. Even though there is no current case law on the books to invalidate Mrs. David’s contract, the city may spend an incredible amount of time and money to defend their decision on an unprecedented position of law. I’m left to wonder how cost effective council’s decision is to void the contract as well as defend it against an untried position versus paying Ms. David’s one year severance pay with benefits should Hamlet and she separate ways.

The bill for the Chapel Hill law firm was stated to be approximately $2,400.00 for half of the prior council session, plus expenses for the review of the contract documents. With this last session and tasks to review, how high will this month’s bill climb? Just at those numbers, Hamlet stands to spend far more money defending their controversial decision if Mrs. David chooses to hire an attorney and defend herself and the contract the prior city council awarded to her based on 20 years of dedication and an unblemished employment history. Where is the business sense in this equation? Why not give Mrs. David her contract as any other city manager gets? (It begs to question: does Rockingham’s city manager have one?) Surely, this is a cheaper resolution than writing new case law at much time and expense to Hamlet.

Steve Futrell represented the City of Hamlet as attorney for 20 years, with an unblemished record and at a pay of less than $12,000.00 per year. Where is the cost effectiveness and frugality that should dictate city decisions and policy? Where is the policy of get three bids and go with the lowest? Where is the transparency of government we hear about, but have yet to see? Where is the appreciation of an attorney that served faithfully for years? I heard it when Councilman McQueen stated in open session, “You get what you pay for.” This outburst was undignified, unsolicited, and uncalled for. I’ve never heard anything but good and professional comments about Hamlet’s prior attorney, whom worked for a mere pittance. This is who speaks for Hamlet? I challenge anyone to go to City Hall, request, and view taped council sessions. View elected officials demean, debase, and holler at your city manager and each other.

Hamlet is supposed to be “the little town that does.” Does what I ask? Make derogatory and demeaning comments to and about a city manager that brought 20 million dollars worth of grant money to enrich the citizens and community as a whole. Doesn’t show respect or decency to a mourning wife and mother of three young girls at the loss of a much beloved husband and father. We stop and show reverence and respect on a public highway when a funeral procession passes, yet can’t get an elected city official to offer a kind word, an act of empathy, or an expression of solidarity as a community. Somewhere in the last few months, Hamlet has turned into the little town that doesn’t. Doesn’t appreciate dedicated employees, doesn’t like women in positions of power - whether black or white. Doesn’t like that a professional, African-American woman garners more respect, esteem, and loyalty than all of council.

There’s no room in the running of a municipality for personal agenda, prejudice, bias, bulling, bigotry, and hostility. It promotes poor morale and low productivity, not to mention a hostile environment. Tommy Cooper and Jim Graham, as the only individuals to have the “brass” to stand up and be heard, Hamlet needs you and more citizens like you. Councilman, the next time you decide to call an articulate, educated, classy, successful African American leader in city government a derogatory euphemism, do it out of my hearing, and better yet, keep it to yourself. As a representative of your community, your personal opinion has no place in city government.

If this is Democracy at work, I see Oligarchy. If this conduct is acceptable, I say people’s civil rights are in question. If this is a private agenda at work, I say you are elected by the people and violating policy, state, and federal laws. Let’s call it what it is: discrimination of the worst kind. As woman, I’m both offended and disgusted.

Lisa Van Kersen lives in Rockingham.