Small-town closed sessions few, far between
Haywood County’s five local governments more or less fall into two tiers — there’s the county and there’s Waynesville, and then there’s everybody else.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in Clyde, Canton and Maggie Valley, but it does mean there’s nothing much going on in the county’s smallest towns, at least in regard to holding closed sessions.
With fewer employees, less land and in some cases less demand, personnel issues and confidential economic development opportunities occur less frequently, resulting in fewer closed sessions.
In 2018, just two closed sessions were conducted in the town of Clyde, but one of them appears to have missed the mark, legally speaking.
On Aug. 17, the board entered into closed session “to consider the qualifications of individuals seeking public office for the board vacancy.”
The board then returned from closed session to open session and appointed John Hemmingway fill an open seat. Although that part of the process was conducted properly, G.S. 143-318.11(a) 6 explicitly states that “A public body may not consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, appointment, or removal of a member of the public body or another body and may not consider or fill a vacancy among its own membership except in an open meeting.”
The Town of Maggie Valley — Haywood’s smallest by population — released three sets of closed session minutes for 2018, two of which were related to economic development, and were extraordinarily detailed, compared to other governments in Haywood County. The third was to evaluate the performance of longtime Town Manager Nathan Clark. All three sessions were properly called.
Canton, the biggest of Haywood’s small towns, had only two sets of closed session minutes to release for all of 2018; as in Maggie Valley with Clark, both were related to personnel.
The first, on Jan. 11, 2018, was to discuss the imminent retirement of then-police chief Bryan Whitner, who retired in March of that year. Town Manager Jason Burrell was directed to implement an application process, narrow the applicants to three or four, and then present his recommendation to the board.
Canton hired its new police chief, Shawn Gaddis, in late March.
The other closed session, held March 8, was to discuss Burrell himself; when Burrell was hired to replace then-manager Seth Hendler-Voss in 2017, Mayor Mike Ray asked Burrell to commit to moving to Canton.
Burrell lives not far to the east, and said that he’d made some offers on some homes in Canton, but “had not yet been successful in purchasing a home inside city limits,” according to minutes released by the Town of Canton.
The board of aldermen, led by Alderman Ralph Hamlett, decided to give Burrell more time in a difficult real estate market to find suitable housing.