Op-Ed: Clearing Things Up In Selma

By: Byron McAllister, Selma Town Councilman

There have been a few articles in Johnston County newspapers over the last month or so that covered the resignation of Steven Hicks, the former Town Manager of Selma, and my role in that resignation. A recent editorial by Scott Bolejack of the Johnstonian News proclaimed, “Selma owes taxpayers an explanation.” Mr. Bolejack is right. Since Mayor Cheryl Oliver and Councilmember Ann Williams decided to turn Mr. Hicks’s resignation into a very public affair, Selma taxpayers need an explanation and the truth about what has been happening in Selma.

Let me first address the accusation Councilmember Ann Williams made concerning Mr. Hick’s resignation at our August 11, 2020 Regular Town Council meeting. These accusations are outlined in a Johnstonian News article titled “McAllister bullied, stalked Selma manager, councilwoman says.” First and foremost, I never stalked or bullied Mr. Hicks. Mr. Hicks had been Selma’s Town Manager for two months prior to me becoming a Councilmember, not two weeks as stated by Ms. Williams. The first time I had a conversation with Mr. Hicks outside of Council chambers was on December 19, 2019. I never had a conversation with him in a parking lot at the edge of dark. I did not attempt to terminate Mr. Hicks’s contract after being sworn in at our first meeting. My visits to Town buildings started well before Mr. Hicks became Town Manager. I will continue to visit Town buildings to say hello to and support our Town staff.

Councilmember Williams tried to politicize the Covid-19 pandemic by suggesting that I may have spread the virus to our staff by visiting buildings. I believe there is no place for that in our politics. I did enter a meeting Mayor Cheryl Oliver, Councilmember Ann Williams, Steven Hicks, and several other people attended. A citizen wanted to know why Council was meeting without notifying the public. I then called Mayor Pro Tem Jacqueline Lacy and Councilman Scarboro to see if we did have a meeting. They were unaware of the meeting and Mr. Scarboro asked me to see what was going on. I later talked to Mayor Oliver in person, not over the phone, asking her to let the rest of Council know if she and Councilmember Williams were having meetings representing Town interest in the future. This was the second time I made that request. I never went searching for Mr. Hicks to see where he was. I only looked for him at Town Hall during my regular visits. There is no way Councilmember Williams could have seen a text from me to Mr. Hicks indicating I was watching him or knew where he was. I never sent a text like that to him. I do still have all my text messages exchanges with Mr. Hicks. When I found he was not at Town Hall, which was often, I would text/email him with a question or ask staff to have him reach out to me.

Mayor Oliver also accused me of making Mr. Hicks an offer concerning his resignation without discussing with Council. This is not true, and I am afraid Mayor Oliver may have gotten bad information. The offer that was made to Mr. Hicks was discussed with Council and confirmed via email. I also take issue with Mayor Oliver and Councilmember Williams giving full credit for any strides, infrastructure or otherwise, to Mr. Hicks. Our Town department heads deserve a considerable amount of credit for the recent progress we have made in Selma.

Mayor Oliver and Councilmember Williams also tried to turn Mr. Hicks severance into an issue that would prevent his departure. His contract did guarantee a severance for termination that Council ultimately decided to give Mr. Hicks with his resignation. In these situations, which is like what we have recently seen with Clayton’s former Town Manager, a contract’s severance package is often paid out when the employee departs regardless of the circumstances. Mr. Hicks’s contract was negotiated before I joined the Selma Town Council.

An article in The Johnston County Report titled “Fate Of Selma Town Manager To Be Discussed During Special Called Meeting” stated “Before the meeting ended, Councilman Byron McAllister reportedly made a motion to ask for Hick’s resignation. The motion was rejected by Mayor Cheryl Oliver citing state law regarding special session meetings which only allows announced topics in public postings to be considered and voted on.” This is not true. Mayor Oliver rejected the motion because she felt it was improper to vote on such a motion without Councilmember Williams present. Councilmember Williams decided to leave the meeting several minutes before we adjourned because she had somewhere to be. At that point she was visibly agitated by our discussion. Councilmember Williams also decided to shut off the air conditioning in the Selma Civic Center where we were meeting before she left.

Mr. Hicks’s resignation was the result of what happens in municipalities everywhere. His vision and goals for Selma did not align with what the majority on Council wanted for Selma. At the end of January 2020 Mr. Hicks had given a budget presentation to the Selma Town Council that gave us an idea of what he felt was and was not important in Selma. When we were told by Mr. Hicks that our Selma Tracks, going “Above and Beyond”, and Town Committees were not important, I was alarmed. I then began hearing from citizens and Town staff that were concerned about the performance of our Town Manager. The truth is most of Council at that time felt Mr. Hicks was not taking Selma in the right direction. In February I, with another Councilmember, asked him to resign. My alarm only increased over the next few months as Mr. Hicks pushed a budget that shrunk our Police Department, cut maintenance funds for emergency responders, and did not include fees associated with several important entities that help our municipality function.

Councilmember Williams supported most of Mr. Hicks’s budget recommendations. Citizens complained about not seeing our Town Manager in Town. Staff had concerns about Mr. Hicks’s management style. I visited Town Hall regularly to find Mr. Hicks had often not shown up to the office by 10:00AM. His ideas and management style may be what another municipality needs. I do not believe Mr. Hicks was the right fit for Selma.

Selma has serious challenges to face in the coming months and years. Our infrastructure needs are great, and the Town has a list of routine maintenance needs that is increasing by the day. We need to build our infrastructure and our staff to prepare for the future in a rapidly growing Selma.

The Johnstonian News also published an article titled “Selma debating fate of old town hall” that framed the debate as being between Mayor Oliver and Councilmember Williams. The article neglects to explore or recognize how much the entire Council has discussed this matter. Councilman Scarboro and I have taken the position from the start of our tenures on Council that our Town has spent enough money on pet projects. Mayor Pro Tem Lacy has been a strong advocate for infrastructure work throughout Selma. Town funded building renovations are not going to move Selma in the right direction. Since 2018 the Town of Selma has spent over $200,000.00 on the repair and maintenance of a pool. That approximate figure does not include man hour costs of Town employees. The pool revenue for the only summer season it has been open totaled less than $11,000.00. Expenditures for the pool will continue to outpace revenue. Over $90,000.00 of Town funds have gone into the Selma Civic Center which is still an incomplete project. As of September 1, 2020, we have seen under $6,500.00 in revenue from the Selma Civic Center. Expenditures for that Civic Center continue to outpace revenue. The Town of Selma must focus on taking care of our basic municipality responsibilities and stop unnecessary projects.

Mayor Cheryl Oliver and Councilmember Ann Williams spent almost 30 minutes of our citizens’ time venting their frustrations about the resignation of Mr. Steven Hicks as Selma Town Manager. They then joined our unanimous vote to accept Mr. Hicks’s resignation. Bear in mind that if Council had voted to not accept Mr. Hicks’s resignation, he would have continued working as Selma Town Manger as stated in the Settlement and Release Agreement between Mr. Hicks and the Town of Selma. Mayor Oliver and Ms. Williams made an impressive effort to keep Mr. Hicks on the job in Selma right up to the time we voted on his resignation. The most problematic part of Councilmember Williams’ speech at our August 11th Town Council meeting was her stating “Selma doesn’t deserve Steven Hicks.” I hope she made that statement in a moment of emotional distress. For the sake of Selma, I pray this is not how she truly feels about our Town. I encourage Mayor Oliver and Councilmember Williams to put all their creative efforts into improving Selma’s infrastructure, building Selma’s staff, taking care of Selma’s citizens, courting business for Selma, and inviting new residents to the Town of Selma. With our Town Council’s efforts in the right place, Selma will continue to progress at a staggering pace.