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Wednesday, 11 September 2013 13:25

Opponents of Maggie mayor try but fail to remove him from office

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As the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen called its monthly meeting to order, it was the last item on the list that had town hall overflowing — a call for a hearing to consider the mayor’s alleged misconduct.

 

Attendees sat patiently. Some voiced their personal problems and opinions. Others just listened, but they were all waiting for the last item to come up.

“Consideration of an amotion procedure,” Mayor Ron DeSimone said, reading off the final agenda item. 

There was a heavy silence. DeSimone and the crowd of about 70 waited for someone to speak up first. Alderman Mike Matthews chimed in, saying he has personally received “lots of complaints” about the mayor and wanted to hold a hearing at a later date.

An amotion is the removal of a public official from office. Generally acceptable reasons for kicking an elected official out under the law are: the person has done something so atrocious that they are deemed no longer fit for the position or committed an act of noncriminal or criminal misconduct in office.

The most recent legal case involving amotion in the state was in 1935, meaning there is not much precedent for such action. That is until this year, however. Earlier this year, a New Hanover County commissioner was booted from office using amotion. The commissioner filed an appeal and won. The judge in the case ruled that the decision against the New Hanover County commissioner was not made by an impartial group based on evidence but rather was made by a group based on their personal experiences.

Alderman Phillip Wight said that no one wanted to call for the mayor’s resignation that night. However, he wanted “the opportunity to question a lot of allegations that go around,” Wight said. “I think it would be unfair for me not to bring it to the town for a hearing.”

Members of the crowd asked who would stand judge against the mayor to say whether anything inappropriate was done.

“I know you are ready for his job,” said Maggie hotel owner James Carver, accusing Wight.

Although no specific alleged wrongdoings were enumerated during the meeting, Wight said he had more than 10 situations he had questions about and would like to hold a hearing to address them. Wight asked the mayor to recuse himself from a vote on whether such a hearing should be held.

“You really should recuse yourself. It pertains to you,” Wight said

DeSimone refused, saying “I have a vote in that.” And as has happened so many times before, the board was split. The aldermen voted 2-to-2 on a motion asking the mayor to recuse himself, which prompted a chorus of “Imagine that” from meeting goers.

A subsequent vote on whether to hold a hearing ended in the same tie. However, Alderman Mike Matthews vowed to bring it up again.

“I am not done,” Matthews said. “There has to be sometime somewhere were we can address issues that are going on.”

To which some audience members replied that an election is the appropriate time for people express their opinions about different politicians. Neither an amotion proceeding nor a hearing was listed on the agenda for Maggie Valley’s Sept. 10 Board of Aldermen meeting.

The mayor’s supporters came out to rally around him. Before the topic of amotion was even broached, a few people stood up during the public comment session to express their support for DeSimone.

“My main reason for being here tonight it to thank the mayor for all he has done in his time in office,” said Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House.

O’Keefe admitted that she was not originally a fan of the mayor’s grand idea to create a business plan, but now that it has come together in Moving Maggie Forward, she wants to be part of the collective effort to improve the valley. 

“After hearing that plan, I am absolutely on board about that,” she said.

The meeting even drew first-time attendees, including resident Phil Freeland, who was disappointed by the overall negativity expressed that night.

“I haven’t been to a town meeting before, and I am astounded,” Freeland said during the public comment session.

He also spoke on behalf of the mayor, saying the removal of DeSimone would be a disservice to Maggie Valley.

“He is helping to point this community in the right direction,” Freeland said. “It would not only be wrong … but it would be a complete waste of time and money.”

Then there were people like Ellen Pitt who spoke favorably of the mayor but more than anything wanted the aldermen to cut out the infighting.

“I would like to see all the squabbling kind of stop,” Pitt said. “We need adults on our town board; we don’t need toddlers.”

Pitt also spoke on a point of contention among the board members — the police department. Matthews and Wight claim the department is too big and should be scaled back, while DeSimone and Price are happy with the police department the way it is. Some business owners have also complained that people avoid drinking in Maggie because of the cops’ heavy-handed reputation.

However, in the recent board meeting, Pitt piped up to recognize the mayor and police department for not compromising when it comes to possibly intoxicated drivers.

“I would like to thank you mayor to the compassion you show to crime victims of Western North Carolina,” said Pitt, who is president of the WNC chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “I would like to thank the responsible business owners.”

Pitt iterated that MADD doesn’t have a pickle with establishments that sell alcohol or people who consume it, only those who go too far.

Some people have claimed the mayor is not the friend of businesses, but O’Keefe said her business has prospered during the years no matter who was in town hall. Owners should take responsibility for how well their business performs, rather than shoveling the fault onto someone else, she said.

“I think the mayor has done a good job, and I don’t have the mayor to blame for anything,” said O’Keefe, who then took her seat amid clapping from the crowd.

Although he is not without his critics, no residents stood up to admonish the mayor during the meeting.

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