Critical of earlier actions, but improved since censure
A report by a Raleigh law firm on the activities of Angier Mayor Lew Weatherspoon is a rebuke of his activities during his early days as the town’s top elected official, but said the mayor has made significant efforts to improve the situation and there was no pattern of activity worthy of having him removed from office.
Earlier this year the Angier Town Board hired the Williams Mullen law firm out of Wake County to investigate the mayor amidst accusations of his trying to usurp the power of the town manager, interfering with the daily activities of the town and holding a vote on a planning board member that was illegal. The move to bring in an investigator came after the board censured the mayor and threatened to institute an amotion hearing to forcibly remove him from office.
The mayor refused to resign the seat, which he gained in a razor-thin election in 2015. He later complied with the terms of the censure, the report found.
Investigator and attorney Robert Higdon of the Williams Mullen firm issued his report to commissioners last week. Following two closed sessions relating to the matter, a redacted copy of the report was released to The Daily Record Wednesday following a public records request.
Mr. Higdon wrote in his report of the investigation that, “There seems little doubt that the mayor significantly interfered with the daily operations of the town during 2016 and that he usurped the authority of the town manager.”
Employees in every department within the town were interviewed as part of the investigation process.
Employees indicated to investigators that the mayor became “a go-to guy” for disgruntled town employees who were unhappy with decisions made by department heads and/or the town manager regarding personnel training and work assignment issues.
Employees also told investigators, Mr. Weatherspoon spent 35 to 40 hours a week at town hall in an office and the mayor would regularly attend staff meetings and insert himself into conversations.
Employees said the mayor held regular meetings with real estate developers and discussed specific issues relating to the projects. Mr. Price was present at some of those meetings, but was not in attendance at others. Mr. Weatherspoon has said Mr. Price encouraged him to be at those meetings.
One noted departmental report came from the police department where employees reported the “mayor would make daily walk-throughs” of the police department and inquire of individual-sworn officers with regard to what type of work they were doing and question them generally about their case work.
There are detailed and possibly more serious accusations against the mayor in regards to a bid process to build a railing in front of a downtown business. According to the report, Mr. Weatherspoon requested that he be allowed to see bids “as they came in” on the project to build a safety rail near Ed’s Family Restaurant. The public works employees said the mayor’s interference may have contributed to the possible elimination of the lowest bid on the project. Mr. Price ordered a second, sealed bid process on the project.
The report also addresses Mr. Weatherspoon’s role in the incorrect reporting of a vote tally during a Dec. 6 meeting.
The mayor admitted he made a mistake in requesting a paper ballot be taken in regards to a new member of the town’s planning board. He said he was told by then town attorney Phil Fusco that the vote was legal when in fact it was against North Carolina General statutes.
Paper ballots are only legal if each voting board member signs his ballots. The ballots in the Dec. 6 meeting were not signed.
The report concluded the mayor miscounted the votes.
“There is no doubt that his tabulation was incorrect as the actual ballots attached to this report as Exhibit G reflect a 3-1 vote. Moreover, his explanation as to why he misreported the vote encompass several excuses that are arguably not credible, or at least defy common-sense rationalization. The mayor first accused a fellow commissioner of altering the physical ballots, he then characterized his conduct as the result of confusion and later attributed his mistake to stress,” the report said.
“However, the mayor’s failure to properly tabulate and report the vote is not a part of a pattern of misconduct in leading board meetings nor is there evidence of other efforts to purposefully alter or misrepresent the results of board action,” the report said.
“However, to date, the mayor has not had additional difficulties running board meetings or in correctly tabulating and reporting the vote on any issue.”
The report noted the town manager’s role in issues at town hall. It indicated Mr. Price contributed to the issue in an attempt to establish a good working relationship wtih the newly-elected mayor.
The reports says that, “The town manager arguably should have established a brighter line between the mayor’s role and his own consistent with the statutory authority given to the manager.”
Because of Mr. Price’s involvement the report recommends against an a motion hearing to forcibly remove the mayor from office. It states that at present there are no “further improper acts” by the mayor which require a decision by the board to seek to remove the mayor from office.
The final conclusion of the report is that the board should enlist the help of a mediator in the case to resolve any further issues that remain from the ongoing saga at the Angier Town Hall.
The board, on the recommendation of the report and its current attorney, Al Bain, voted Tuesday night to enlist the help of a mediator from the University of North Caroina School of Government. There has been no time schedule released about a time scale as to when the mediation will occur. Courtesy The Daily Record