By Richard Sullins |

Broadway’s town board held its final meeting of the year Monday, and it was a night of passing the torch from one era to the next.

Monday was the final meeting for Town Manager Eddie Thomas, who informed the board in August he would be stepping down from his position to pursue a full-time opportunity in ministry at the Juniper Springs Baptist Church on Buckhorn Road.

Mayor Donald Andrews said that “the Lord sent Eddie to lead us through COVID. His calmness and demeaner helped us make it through the pandemic. He has been called to shepherd another group of folks now and they are lucky to get him.”

Thomas was hired in early 2020, just before the virus hit.

Incoming Town Manager John Godfrey, who recently retired from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, was on hand for the meeting. Godfrey’s last posting was as warden of the Harnett Correctional Institution in Lillington. He will begin his new duties on January 1.

The commissioners also said farewell to the town’s Police Chief Todd Hinnant, who will be retiring at the end of the year. Hinnant started on a part-time basis with the town in 1993 and has been with the department full-time as chief since 2006. As allowed by the North Carolina General Assembly, the town presented Chief Hinnant with his .45 caliber sidearm as a token of their appreciation. County Commission Chairman Kirk Smith was also present to read and present a resolution of appreciation to Hinnant for his service.

The town has named Evan B. Gunter to replace Hinnant effective January 1. Gunter is a lifelong Lee County resident who graduated from Lee County Senior High School and Central Carolina Community College. Gunter’s first assignment in law enforcement was with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department, followed by service as a police officer at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. He joined the Broadway Police Department in 2016.

A resolution honoring retiring Sheriff Tracy Carter was also read by Mayor Andrews. Carter, who announced his retirement in January after 33 years in law enforcement that included four terms as sheriff, graciously accepted the resolution with a smile and a wave of his hand.

The commissioners also welcomed a new member to their ranks. April Collins, who was the top vote-getter in the November 2 election, was sworn in to replace Commissioner Janet Harrington, who passed away on September 24. Also sworn in were returning Commissioners Tommy Beal and Jim Paschal. Beal was re-elected to another term as mayor pro tempore.

Body Cameras to be purchased in summer

Andrews led a second discussion by commissioners regarding the purchase of body cameras for the Police Department. Chief Hinnant had presented on Nov. 22 a proposal from Axon, a law enforcement equipment technology firm, to equip the town’s full-time officers and share a camera among the reserve officers for a cost of approximately $50,000 over a five-year period. The quote also included tasers and cloud storage of data that would be recorded by the cameras.

There was unanimity among the commissioners that the cameras are needed.

“I think it’s a need, not a want,” Beal said. “And somewhere down the road, it could cost us more than what the cameras will cost if something were to happen involving one of our officers.”

Town Attorney Jimmy Love reminded the board that new policies and procedures will need to be developed and adopted before the cameras can be deployed.

Andrews recommended that “with a new police chief and a new officer coming after the first of the year, it makes sense to me that we involve them in the process of developing this new policy and the procedures, and then make our purchase after we have everything we need in place.”

Annual audit results in good report

The results of the town’s audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021 were presented at the meeting. The report concluded that the Town was in good financial condition at year’s end with a cash balance of $1,793,000 at year’s end and a total in the unassigned fund balance that had risen to about $873,000.

The report expressed thoughts about an area that remains a significant deficiency, one that is common to small towns with limited staffs. Segregation of duties has to do with having more than one person overseeing authorizations and approval of transactions within the general ledger. Ideally, two or more persons would carry out those functions but in organizational units like small towns, there is not enough staff to meet that ideal.

The report noted, however, that Broadway has taken significant steps to mitigate the deficiency. With greater oversight by the town manager and having the mayor to oversee every check that is disbursed, the town has been able to reach a level of performance that is working to overcome the deficiency that was noted. It’s important to keep in mind that while the finding was termed a “significant deficiency,” that is a much less serious infraction than something classified as a “material weakness,” which the town did not have in the report.

Christmas in Broadway and the Census

Andrews reported to the board that the town’s Christmas Parade held on Saturday, December 11, was the largest crowd he had ever seen in Broadway. Last year’s parade was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Andrews speculated that this year’s turnout could well have been because people were ready to get outdoors again. Video from the parade can be found on YouTube and Facebook by searching “Broadway NC Christmas Parade 2021.”

Andrews said that the town is exploring the possibility of a Question Resolution with the U.S. Bureau of the Census following the 2020 count. Based on the countywide response rate of about 70 percent, Broadway had 1,267 people living within the corporate limits in 2020, an increase of 38 persons from 2010. The number of houses increased by 25 during the decade.

In the same way that Sanford Mayor Chet Mann thought that the city’s numbers would have been higher, Andrews had believed that Broadway’s residents would have numbered closer to 1,300. Census participation is generally thought to have been lower in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic and politicization of issues surrounding it at the national level.

Census population counts are important because they are used to determine the number of representatives that each state may have in Congress for the next 10 years, how legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly are apportioned, and how federal and state dollars for social programs, housing, schools, and roads are allocated.

Andrews has discussed the issue with City and County GIS Strategic Services Director Don Kovasckitz and said that the next step could be for the Census Bureau to do a recount of the number of households living in the town and compare that to the number reported in the 2020 Census to see if an undercount might have taken place.