In Maggie Valley’s Town Hall, the cooperative spirit has been in short supply of late, with disputes flaring at nearly every turn.
A chill fell over the Board of Aldermen when former member Colin Edwards took his leave last month, creating a vacancy on the board and a chasm between its remaining members.
Things got significantly less friendly at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting, where disagreements and outright arguments among board members erupted over several touchy issues.
Edwards departure – and the choice about how and when to replace him – was a cause of some indignation, with Alderman Phil Aldridge criticizing the other members over the extending the deadline for people to apply for the vacant seat.
Other aldermen said they were in favor of giving residents an extra month to put their names in the hat, but Aldridge said he was vexed by the extension when the town had five applications in hand already.
“We had more people to come forward that applied for this vacant position we have on the board here than we’ve ever had,” said Aldridge. “We’ve never had this many people.”
Aldridge questioned whether other town board members simply didn’t like those who have applied so far and were hoping to hand pick someone of their own choosing. Aldridge has lobbied for selecting the runner-up from the last town election, calling it the most “democratic” thing to do.
Whoever the appointee eventually is, they’ll only be sitting in the position for six months before the November election, where Alridge’s seat will also be up for grabs.
Though the decision to extend was made in consultation with the town board, Aldridge laid the blame for the extension squarely at the feet of Town Manager Tim Barth, even going so far as to call for Barth’s resignation.
“I guess I’m holding him accountable for this,” said Aldridge. “I think we need to look at Tim’s severance pay and his contract and go forward possibly looking for another town manager.”
ABC board controversy
The ire didn’t stop there, however, with perhaps the most heated exchanges coming over issues related to the town’s ABC board. Maggie Valley’s two liquor stores lost money in 2010 for the second year in a row, and blame was placed on a bad economy and overhead related to opening a second store. While revenue increased with the second store, overhead increased by even more, according to ABC Board Chairman Ralph Wallace.
But Aldridge, and Edwards prior to his resignation, suggested the stores have been poorly run, even mismanaged, and need more oversight. Both wanted to see the ABC board increased from three to five members.
However, Aldridge failed to garner support for the idea, as the board ultimately voted 3-to-1 not to increase the ABC board membership, at which point the meeting devolved briefly into a mire of bickering. Board members vacillated between hurling insults and accusations at one another, and taking it in turns to directly address the nearly full audience.
Aldridge logged the lone vote in favor of increasing the board, although Alderman Scott Pauley and fellow member Saralyn Price said they’d be for the measure at some point, but not right now.
Despite implications to the contrary, Price countered that she had faith in the scruples of the alcohol board’s members.
“The ABC board assures us everything is on the up and up,” Price said. Otherwise, Price said, town leaders would not “stand for somebody taking something and not doing things about it.”
After a shout from the crowd that cast derision on that claim, Price shot back, “then don’t vote for me ever again and maybe some other people should start running for these offices.”
Broken chain of command
Pauley made his appeal to the crowd, after proposing a policy to prevent members from circumventing Barth and going straight to town employees with their requests.
“We have a terrible communication problem,” said Pauley. “I’m not trying to mask it, I’m trying to fix it.”
Even in the public comment segment, citizens who showed up vented their spleen about nearly everything on the agenda, including the fact that public comment continued to languish at the end of every meeting. That means citizens have no venue for pitching their thoughts before votes are taken.
Several residents made the point that a poorly worded resolution that was passed before public comment could have been amended before it was voted on, had the board recognized audience members with raised hands looking to illuminate the mistake.
The resolution will now have to wait until next month’s meeting to be rectified.
In the end, Mayor Roger McElroy closed the tense session with a half-hearted adjournment, telling the few audience members who remained, “we appreciate your comments and will take them under consideration. Or at least I will.”