NEWLAND – Newland Board of Aldermen welcomed a new town administrator, as well as engaged in lively debate over the town’s operation and finances during its Tuesday, Nov. 2, meeting.
For at least one alderman, David Calvert, the meeting represented his final gathering as alderman with the board, as he did not seek re-election during this election cycle.
With the backdrop of a narrowly contested mayoral race, the meeting featured a mixture of high emotions, a dash of vitriol, and a number of town updates.
Early in the meeting, a request for the approval of the previous month’s meeting meetings was contested, as Alderman Christie Hughes expressed that her request at the previous meeting to Mayor Valerie Jaynes to receive town financial statements was not noted in minutes or carried out. Following a vocal exchange between the mayor and alderman, the board approved the minutes with the stated amendment.
Tensions in the meeting elevated in the middle portion of the meeting, as Jaynes produced documentation of email exchanges that were requested from Hughes between the mayor’s office and the town accountant due to a referenced budgetary dispute. The pair engaged in debate over the previously mentioned financial statements, as well as time sheets and a discussion over a letter of resignation from the most recent town finance officer that had not been immediately communicated to board members by the mayor.
“I held on to it (the letter) for the weekend, and by the time I went to email it, you all you already knew, so what was the point?... I’m tired of being disrespected and being talked about like a dog, when I am not that person whatsoever,” Jaynes stated.
Points of Order were proclaimed from both Hughes and Jaynes before the mayor silenced proceedings with a resounding smack of the gavel to the board table, instructing for no further discussion and for the meeting to move on to the next item on the agenda.
Resident John Bare, a self-professed “plant enthusiast,” addressed the board, asking that it consider the planting of public apple trees in areas owned by the town. Much like the public Crossnore Orchard co-operated by the Cooperative Extension Service and Crossnore Communities for Children, Inc., Bare presented the idea to have the apple trees labeled with variety information and historical data relating to the fruit, and expressed desire to work with the town to carry out the initiative.
“It would be cool to preserve the history of Avery’s food resilience,” Bare said of the request.
With respect to the comment, because of the time of year, the theoretical trees would not be able to be planted until the spring.
“We could make it educational. The Riverwalk is impressive because it’s like a full ecosystem,” said Bare.
Alderman Jamey Johnson expressed appreciation to Bare for his willingness to carry out the project, and moved for Bare to be permitted to plant a pair of apple trees in a yet-to-be-determined public space, provided that the trees have been donated. The board passed the motion for the project.
Newland Police Department had two officers present at the meeting in Chief Byron Clawson and Officer Michael Fields. NPD provided an update to the October police activity log which highlighted six animal complaints, seven motor vehicle accidents and three investigations.
Notably mentioned was another drug arrest, with special acknowledgment to Lazlo, the department’s K9 officer. The police canine and handler, in partnership with Fields, recovered two pre-loaded methamphetamine syringes. It was stated that in three months on duty Lazlo has aided in six drug-related busts.
“That dog has been worth his weight in gold,” Johnson said. “Without the canine, would you have found those syringes?” The officers confirmed that they would not have located the drugs without the K9 officer’s assistance.
In reference to the water and sewer systems, Public Works Supervisor Colby Benfield communicated that the Town of Newland had four water leaks during the month of October, however no water main was turned off for more than 30 minutes. Benfield also explained that the recent water study that was performed helped save money for the town based on its assessment.
Newland Public Works has had a difficult time filling a vacant position in the department, according to Benfield, citing that when qualified candidates are made aware of the salary offered, they become uninterested. Aldermen Johnson and Calvert both agreed that the current salary package for the vacant position within public works should not be altered.
“Come the winter, people will be interested.” Calvert said regarding the vacancy.
“We did a payroll study a few years ago. We are where we are,” Johnson noted.
When the board inquired if there exists any current admirable and qualified applicants, Benfield confirmed that there were candidates, but that they would be unable to accept the current wage with the certifications they hold. The board then moved that if the applicants have wastewater certifications or septic/sewer classifications, the board would consider wage augmentation for the vacancy.
With respect to unfilled positions in town organization, Newland has been operating without a finance officer, town administrator and public works agent. The position of town administrator has recently been filled, as Jeremy Gerrish has been hired for the administration position at Town Hall. The newly delegated town employee has already started to explain some of the logistics of his plans.
Inheriting town data compilations that are not up-to-date and a new computer software system, Gerrish wishes to catch the administration aspect of Newland up to speed.
Gerrish clarified some of the coordination efforts he wishes to utilize, including contracting out payroll services for data input through a company named ADP, as well as have a waging hour study commissioned for commutable distances for all of the vacant positions within the town.
“We need to compete equitably to get the right people here to work,” Gerrish said of position need and vacancy in Newland.
The meeting was capped with the positivity of Newland potential for progress. “We need to get stuff moving forward,” Johnson stated.
The board wishes to work with more grant writers and utilize the substantial funds potentially provided to Newland, including a prospective water and sewer expansion grant to optimize infrastructure growth for the town, as well as another grant predicated on the beautification of Newland.