The Angier Town Board voted Tuesday night to hire a mediator to negotiate a way to resolve a dispute with its embattled mayor.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Smith made a motion to ask a mediator with the University of North Carolina School of Government to step in as a third party in the board’s dispute with Mayor Lew Weatherspoon.
“I make this motion in the spirit of moving forward for the people of this town,” Mr. Smith said.
Though he didn’t know the cost of hiring a mediator, Town Manager Coley Price said it would come at a “small cost” to taxpayers.
The move to bring in a third party problem solver came on the recommendation of Town Attorney Al Bain after the second closed session in a week’s time to discuss the matter.
The closed session was held to discuss a 71-page report issued to board members from the Williams Mullen Law Firm in Raleigh.
Board members voted unanimously earlier this year to hire the law firm to look into allegations against the mayor despite local citizens protests about spending taxpayer dollars on the project. Mr. Price previously indicated the town spent approximately $8,000 on the report. Online records of the town’s expenditures shown that an additional $5,000 was paid to Williams Mullen relating to the report.
Attorney Robert Higdon handled the investigation for the law firm.
The controversy began after the mayor admitted his fault and bad judgment using a secret, paper ballot — which goes against North Carolina General Statutes — during a vote to elect a member to the Angier Planning Board. He then tallied the vote incorrectly.
Additional allegations of interference in the day-to-day operation of the town were made during a meeting attended by town employees, the mayor, commissioners and Mr. Price at a later date. There were multiple claims including that the mayor had tried to usurp the powers of Mr. Price and had overstepped his authority by questioning town employees.
The board issued Mayor Weatherspoon a censure.
In the aftermath, the board sought an amotion hearing to legally remove Mr. Weatherspoon from office. The board was informed by legal counsel there was not enough evidence to support the hearing. It was at that point that the law firm was hired to investigate the matter further.
Mayor Weatherspoon issued a statement about the matter.
“I have read the unredacted report of Mr. Higdon,” Mr. Weatherspoon said. “I am not allowed to share it. Since January, I have accepted and have abided by the board’s definition of my duties as mayor. I believed then, and I believe now, that it is in the best interest of the Town of Angier that we work together for the town. Further debate about the events of the last seven months does not help the town, so that is all I have to say about the report.”
The full report from the law firm was given to each board member and a redacted copy will be made available at town hall for the public. The public will have the opportunity to copy the report onto a CD or a thumb drive if they so desire.
Despite Mr. Price’s request to do so, the board rejected a request to put a copy of the report on the town’s website. Courtesy The Daily Record