By Richard Sullins |

An otherwise normal meeting of the Lee County Board of Commissioners on Monday night turned into a debate over some of the members’ religious devotion after board Chairman Kirk Smith acknowledged sending Commissioner Mark Lovick a text message questioning his personal faith.

The fuse was lit earlier in the meeting, when former Republican Commissioner Arianna Lavallee said during the public comment period that Democratic Commissioner Cameron Sharpe had damaged her reputation by claiming she had personally received kickbacks from a vote in November to award $500,000 in federal funds to Life Springs Church to operate its Dream Center. Videos from the January 9 meeting failed to give any support for Lavallee’s claims, and Sharpe invited her to take the issue to court if she believed there is proof.

But things got even hotter when Lovick, a Democrat, began speaking about a text message he’d received on January 13 he believed questioned his Christian faith because he’d raised concerns about the process of the Life Springs vote.

Lovick spoke for more than five minutes without identifying the sender, describing his process of prayer before taking a vote.

“There will be no rock throwing here tonight,” he said. “No one, no one here, no one in this world died for me. None of you has nail-scarred hands. You don’t get to judge me or question my faith.”

As Lovick concluded, Republican Chairman Smith claimed authorship of the message and said it had been intended to be private. But communications between elected officials, regardless of their format, are considered by state law to be public records. The Rant obtained a copy of the text through a records request. It is presented below without edits:

“I watched our last Board Meeting and was upset to hear your comments about using the American Rescue Plan money for the Life Springs Dream Center. You recall we set aside $1.2 million of ARPA Funds to facilitate programs that provide services to those suffering from mental and substance abuse.”

“For you to say we violated our own ‘non-profits policy’ was a blatant falsehood! The funding is not from local tax revenue but from ARPA Funding and we stated clearly based on previous surveys how we were going to disburse those funds. The Dream Center met a number of service conditions listed in the ARPA Rules regarding substance abuse and mental health treatment.”

“Who is pulling your strings and putting you up to this charade? Are there Democrat (sic) Party bosses holding a grudge against Life Springs Church? A community of believers who actually carry out Christ’s command.”

“As for your public statement that you must pray upon an issue before taking a vote is fine, no doubt that is between you and GOD. So tell me, ‘Does GOD appreciate your procrastination?'”

“The Board Agenda packet is normally released on Wednesday before the Monday meeting. You have all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to pray on your vote, yet you publicly stated that you must pray before your vote. Where am I wrong? In addition those days allow ample opportunity to research, call, and raise concerns with staff.”

“As for communications from me? Have I not kept you in the loop on a variety of issues? Do I not share my notes from the City of Sanford, the Town of Broadway and other boards and commissions I set on? It personally hurt me to hear you criticize the lack of communication. Furthermore, as a Christian, I didn’t know you were going to waffle on supporting the Dream Center.”

“I am deeply hurt and disappointed in your antics. Someone is pulling your strings as to what I stated above does not compute as to who you profess to be!”

Republican Commissioner Bill Carver spoke up in favor of Lovick, noting that he has served with him on the board “for the past 2 years and I would suggest that as you look at his faith, it is what makes his character strong and makes him an excellent candidate for continuing on as a commissioner. I think we all have a right to take a position on faith whatever we want.”

Sharpe responded, “I do, too. So why should someone on this board question Commissioner Lovick’s?”

Smith then stepped in to bring the discussion to a conclusion. “Commissioner Lovick, that was a private message. That was between you and I. And we’ll leave it there. We’re done.”

As soon as the meeting was gaveled to a close, Smith and Lovick could be observed having a private conversation that went on for about 10 minutes. The two men then shook hands and parted.