Maggie Valley taxpayers deserve better
It may sound like some kind of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, but trust me it’s not: the processes by which elected boards operate more often than not is a reflection of the wisdom of the decisions that emanate from that public body.
By that, I mean those who have adopted processes that invite internal, public debate among members, who make it a practice to respect the opinions of their fellow board members and the taxpayers, who ensure those who elected them can make their opinions known, who can make compromises, who work diligently to keep the public involved and informed, and who rely on the advice of the professionals that work for them more often than not to make sound decisions. As a journalist, I’ve witnessed that truth time and again.
At this point, I’m not going to judge whether recent decisions by the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen were wise. I will say, however, that their process is showing some cracks. Here’s why I’ve come to that conclusion.
A recent decision to remove a member of the zoning board of adjustments happened on a 3-2 vote. That’s fine. Split votes are common among many elected boards, and it’s merely a reflection of differing values of board members.
However, what was troubling in this particular instance is that the issue was not on the published agenda for that meeting. Under “other business,” those members of the town board who wanted this member removed brought up the matter and then called for a vote. That’s a bad way to conduct the public’s business.
There are many boards who make it a matter of practice to never vote on controversial matters the first time they are discussed. They know that losing the public’s trust can be a slippery slope, so they make sure to let those who voted for them know what they’ll be discussing and then invite public opinion on the issue. That did not happen in this instance.
If any elected leader feels the need to take votes by surprise because they know an issue is controversial, well, that’s a big red flag.
Also, it certainly appeared as if those voting to remove Allen Alsbrooks from the board of adjustment had hatched the plan to do just that prior to the meeting. Now, it would have been a blatant violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law if the three of them had met in person or electronically and discussed this prior to the official town board meeting. That’s a big no-no.
If perhaps they had talked in pairs — if one board member had called another, discussed the issue, and then said, “OK, I’ll call so-and-so and see if he’s in agreement before the meeting and I’ll let you know” — well, that’s also a violation of the “spirit” of the N.C. Open Meetings Law. Public decisions must be discussed and made in public. Period.
Over the past few months, Maggie Valley’s elected leaders have chosen to ignore the recommendations of their paid professionals, in particular town planner Kaitland Finkle. Again, that’s their prerogative as elected leaders, but to do it time and again speaks to some kind of dysfunction.
Maggie Valley — for all its quaint, touristy exterior — has over the past couple of decades often been embroiled in a bruising brand of small-town politics. Whether it was over Ghost Town, annexation, Soco Road’s future, etc., there have often been strong differences among those who are elected to the board.
So be it. Let the emotions run hot. But the processes should be set in stone, not subject to the whims of the current elected board. And when potential violations of laws governing open meetings crop up, the disservice to taxpayers is multiplied. Doing the public’s business the right way can be tedious, monotonous and really, really hard. But it’s what voters deserve, and anything less is unacceptable.