The frequent use of executive, or closed-door, sessions by new members of the Hamlet City Council has been noticed and questioned by a longtime council member.
Four such sessions have been held during the past five public meetings to discuss various matters that require a closed session. However, communication and transparency isn’t all it could be, Councilman Pat Preslar said.
Preslar said that in all his 15 years on the council, he hasn’t encountered a council that has had such an issue with communication. The recent closed sessions have also concerned Preslar because there have been instances where he has not been informed on what the closed sessions are really about. He has only been given general information, such as “personnel” — much the same information to which the media or the general public have access.
“When a council member asks for a closed session, normally they will give you a reason as to what it’s going to be about,” Preslar said. “But the four that we’ve had recently, sometimes I never know what it’s really concerning. Do they have to tell me exactly what it’s about before the meeting? I’m not sure, but it is a courtesy to know so we can communicate better.”
During the regime of the previous council, members met in closed session only four times during its regular monthly meeting in 2013 from January to November. This doesn’t include any action taken by council members via other methods, such as by email, in between public meetings.
“Since the new council has taken office, we’ve had a closed session pretty much every meeting,” Preslar said.
Council member Jesse McQueen has noticed the increase of closed sessions. He pledged to be open and transparent while on the campaign trail and on the night of his election, but notes that it is not a new trend for the city of Hamlet.
“There’s a lot of things that this new council needs to be caught up on,” McQueen said. “We’ve been dealing the hiring of a new attorney, the purchase of the A&P Building and the city manager’s contract. The past council left us with issues we had to take care of and the nature of those issues required closed doors, but we have come back from those sessions, took action and discussed what went on during the session.”
Council members Eddie Martin and Johnathan Buie agreed that the number of closed session has increased, but it is something that couldn’t be controlled with the issues the council has had to deal with.
“We’re just trying to make things right and in accordance with the law,” Martin said.
Buie is not a fan of closed sessions and is glad that the issues mandating executive sessions seem to be coming to a close.
“I don’t like closed sessions, but there are cases that you just have to,” Buid said.
Buie said that he believed that all council members have been informed of what the closed sessions were about. In order to call a closed session, the council has to pinpoint which portion of the North Carolina statute the closed session will be covering. Even with that information though, Preslar believes that there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to help the council move forward.
“We can communicate better than we do,” Preslar said. “We should all be on the same page. I’d like to have some background information and do some research on my own. That way I can properly represent Hamlet, but when you’re in the minority it can be frustrating.”
Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless believes that with the two big issues of the A&P Building and the city manager’s contract behind the council, the group will not be calling as many closed sessions.
“The real truth of the matter is that these are a good bunch of people (the council) that are looking out for the good of the town,” Bayless said. “They each have their ideas on what needs to be done, but we’re hoping we can all come together to work on moving ahead.”