By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Harnett County Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon faced a hostile crowd for the second time in a month and the encore didn’t go much better than the opener.
Weatherspoon took the gavel Monday night in the absence of Chairman W. Brooks Matthews and was quickly met with calls for his removal from the vice chair position, a political challenge in his reelection and censureship from the board.
Residents opposing the construction of a new Highland Paving asphalt plant near their neighborhoods used the public comment portion of Monday night’s commissioner meeting to vent their frustrations over what they feel was a complete lack of transparency from the county. By the time most residents found out about the plant’s intended destination, much of the paperwork was signed, sealed and delivered thanks to a decades-old zoning change.
Ilia Smirnov, owner of Cape Fear River Adventures, said the decision to move forward with the plant wasn’t in the best interest of the local businesses or the community. As a long-time Harnett County business owner, Smirnov questioned the board’s values and who exactly they want to represent.
“I’ve heard the asphalt plant will create jobs and they will pay taxes,” Smirnov said. “I’ve been in business in Harnett county for the last 10 years. I’ve grown my operation from a one-man show to one with more than 50 people in the summertime. I have paid a lot of taxes into Harnett County and not one of you has come up to me and said ‘hey, thanks for creating those jobs and thanks for paying taxes.’ Neither one of you talked to me and said what can we do to help you bring more tourists and business to Harnett County? I see some hypocritical decisions are being made not in front of our eyes but behind out backs because none of the responsibilities you have sworn to represent have been a part of this decision.”
Craig Fenerty attended a commissioner meet-and-greet a couple of weeks ago attended by Weatherspoon and returned Monday night for a series of follow-up comments. Fenerty mentioned a specific interaction with the commissioner and questioned whether or not Weatherspoon provided accurate information at the time.
“Eleven days ago, we met you and we brought this issue up with you about opposing the plant,” Fenerty said. “We said you should have been able to do something about it. What did you say? You said there is nothing we can do. When I asked you specifically did you know about this, you said not until after fact that the application was put in. But now we have an article in The Daily Record with just a few emails released, that you were working on it back in May. Correct? You were already working with Highland to find them a plant.”
Fenerty called for transparency on Weatherspoon’s part in order to help clear up any confusion regarding what he did and didn’t know about the plant’s arrival. Fenerty said commissioners have the power to change zoning ordinances and they should have on this particular site off of U.S. Highway 401.
“You have had ample chance to release information to prove your position that you had nothing to do with it,” Fenerty said. “We’ve heard nothing from you. Nothing disputing that you were involved a month before it came here. We know that you were involved, you knew it was coming. You offered them zero resistance because you were ushering them in. Release all of your documentation and prove to us that you were working to keep that plant from that location. Everything we’ve seen up to this point is you opened the door for them and did nothing to stop them.”
Donald Longman followed and called for Weatherspoon’s removal from the vice chair position. Elizabeth Longman demanded the other commissioners censure him.
Commissioner Barbara McKoy addressed the crowd before the public comment ended, distancing herself from the controversy as much as possible.
“Maybe I’m stepping out of line,” said McKoy. “I’m Commissioner McKoy and I’m putting it on the record: I knew nothing about that asphalt plant until I read it in the paper. I will not sit here and be accused of something I knew nothing about. I want the people to know that I hear your cries.”
Woody Reed garnered the loudest applause of the night when he announced his intentions to replace Weatherspoon on the board of commissioners.
“Mr. Weatherspoon, guess what, you’re in trouble because I’m running against you in the next election,” said Reed. “To the paving company, you’re in bad shape. I will do everything by the law to make sure you find out this is the worst mistake you have ever made to come to Harnett County. Mr. Weatherspoon, you made a mockery on the Angier town board, and now you want to come here and do the exact same thing. I look forward to being in your seat very soon.”
Unfazed, Weatherspoon leaned over to Commissioner Matt Nicol and said, “I love a challenge.”