Since October 2013, our town’s leaders have been meeting with Walmart, local realty, and developer representatives about rezoning, annexing, and developing the corner of Legion Road and NC162 for commercial development. For the first six months, no citizens were involved in the original discussions. Public discussion came almost out of the blue. Apparently though some town officials were involved in meetings with Walmart. Some who lived near the area made business decisions that made it appear they were more informed than they otherwise would claim. Several of them came to conclusions off of whatever they learned in those pre-meetings, and have vehemently fought the idea of wavering from their decision to rezone the area.
In the spring of 2014, the developers and the town officials divulged their plans to the public. A parade of Walmart representatives presented their plans, and then opponents were allowed to speak. Then citizens were told it’s not about Walmart, but it was always about Walmart, because every modicum of public discussion said it was always about Walmart building a Neighborhood Market on that corner, with gas pumps and other retail storefronts. This led to citizens’ being involved.
All along in the process since then, the town has made missteps and bungles.
There were initial questions about contract zoning, because of the presentations by Walmart that disregarded any other use for that corner.
Closed sessions started increasing.
Paid attorney advice kept the town from making legal statements they should have made about the “reasonable, consistent and in the public interest” nature of their decision. The town attorney had written months before about the same statement being required in another town.
The board had to revisit their procedures, which they changed to fit the way they were doing things, rather than the way things should be done and had been understood to have been done for years (Robert’s Rules of Order).
Products were contributed by Walmart to the town, while the town was considering rezoning.
Commissioners whose ‘other jobs’ benefit from their decisions as commissioner denied they have conflicts of interest in their decision-making, because they didn’t directly benefit. (The definition of a conflict of interest doesn’t require direct benefits.)
Graves on the property were known early on, but only mentioned a couple months ago, and Walmart and local realty reps claimed that no relatives of the buried could be found. Then citizens did what town officials, Walmart, local realty, and developer representatives said they could not do through classified ads: they found the relatives.
In the past week, it has been shown that there was another meeting in October 2014, at a place and with snacks paid for by the town, but no one wants to say who was at that meeting. Despite the town paying for the spot, the snacks, and the appearance of town officials who were paid for their time at the meeting, none of our town officials see the need to tell who was at the meeting, or what the purpose of the meeting was.
Clearly, we don’t know everything that has gone into this whole Walmart corner rezoning process, nor many other decisions by this board. Part of that is because some of our officials do not believe they are accountable to us except at election time. Part of that is because some of our officials do not care to listen to anything when they have already made up their minds. “Attorney-client privilege” has been declared frequently. In all this process, citizen involvement is the only reason why any of us know any of these details. Many of our citizens are complacent and happy to just let government do whatever government is going to do. Thankfully, some of our citizens expect better, more effective government, accountable to the citizens in addition to themselves and each other, and not just ignoring the evidence to cash in with developments. So if you see someone questioning authority or even questioning your favorite town official, remember that is the first duty of a citizen. If that town official expects less from themselves or you, then they are not as good a town official as you think they are.