By Richard Sullins | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lee County Board of Commissioners’ Republican majority outvoted its Democrats Monday night by approving a change in the minutes of an October 18 meeting at which a controversial plan for local electoral districts was adopted.
Republican Commissioner Bill Carver had proposed deleting four sentences in the October 18 draft that describe the deliberations of commissioners on so-called “Plan F” and substitute 11 other sentences in their place that attempt to rationalize the thought processes of the majority as they rejected six plans and adopted a seventh – which was criticized for weakening the power of the minority vote in Lee County – that had not been subject to comment by the public.
Carver contended the prepared by Clerk to the Board Jennifer Gamble didn’t contain sufficient detail to explain the process the Republican majority followed in ultimately voting for Plan F, and so he decided to rewrite that portion of what would become the official record of the meeting.
“I understand that the minutes are prepared by Ms. Gamble as a summary and that they are not generally a transcription. The question is whether they are accurate, and do they have sufficient detail?” Carver said. “There is a good chance that they could be contested and if so, what is in the minutes is what was said that night.”
Carver went on to say he watched the video of the October 18 meeting and prepared an 11-sentence substitute section that, in his view, was a more accurate summary of what had been said.
Democrat Cameron Sharpe was having none of it.
“This has a feel to it that implies that the clerk is not doing her job the way she should be. I have never seen anything like this before. I’ve never seen anybody go back and try to rewrite the narrative the way they are trying to rewrite it,” he said. “Were you a little bit worried about a lawsuit?”
Carver responded he wasn’t and his only concern was the county “has to live with this for the next 10 years.”
But Carver said only moments before there’s a “good chance that (the districts) could be contested” and remarked at the November 1 meeting “these changes are a more detailed explanation of my comments on redistricting. I request that they be included so that if the redistricting plan is challenged, a more detailed rationale for Plan F be preserved in the minutes.”
Brenda Johnson of Sanford said during the public comments segment “I’ve never seen where you could change the minutes and say what you meant to say instead of what you actually said. Whatever he’s trying to do, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr., who has represented District 1 for the past 30 years, agreed, saying “I’ve not seen this done to this degree in my time here on my board.”
Republican Commissioners Kirk Smith and Andre Knecht both said that they had watched the video of the meeting, compared it to Carver’s proposed revisions, and were satisfied with making the changes.
Sharpe expressed frustration.
“We have a nonpartisan GIS Director who presented maps to us, and then a new map was presented at the next meeting that had not been seen by the public,” he said. “(Republicans) let the cat out of the bag at the meeting when Chairman Smith was not present, saying that there was supposed to be another map.”
Republicans Smith, Carver, Knecht and Arianna Lavallee voted in favor of changing the draft version of the minutes. Democrats Sharpe, Reives, and Mark Lovick voted against the change.
But even though the redistricting vote was taken October 18, the process followed by the Republican majority in its adoption continues not to sit well in sections of the county. David Smoak, president of the Carolina Trace Board of Directors, told the commissioners that many property owners in his subdivision wanted it to be represented within one political district. The adopted October 18 splits the subdivision into two different electoral districts.
Reives expressed his confusion about the production of the final three maps, which were made public at consecutive commission meetings.
“It still bothers me that we don’t know how we got to the E, F, and G maps,” he said. “The public seems to feel that it was the county that drew those maps, but it wasn’t. It would be nice to know where the information for where those maps were drawn came from before we go to court.”
Carver had also requested an unspecified change in the closed session minutes of the October 4 meeting, but commissioners voted during a closed session to approve those minutes as they had been presented.
Property tax issues coming
As the board prepares for its January retreat and the setting of county priorities for 2022, Sharpe said that further tax reductions should be near the top of the list. The county’s property tax rate was reduced from 77.5 cents per $100 in valuation to 76 cents by the commissioners as part of their annual budget approved last June.
Reives said there is another issue related to property taxes that is deserving of immediate attention.
“Property owners are finding developments that are going up around them and causing their property taxes to go up, and that’s something that needs to be looked at,” he said. “That’s a real thing, and it ought to be looked at sooner than later because I can see it coming in Lee County.”
The board also approved a lease with FirstHealth of the Carolinas for use of county-owned property on Central Drive as a base of operations for its emergency and non-emergency medical services. Under terms of the agreement, FirstHealth will lease the property in Central Carolina Professional Park through June 30, 2026, at a rate of $5,186 per month. The property was previously the home of Central Carolina Advanced Life Support.