Mount Gilead Town Commissioners met last night. The meeting was called specifically for the purpose of discussing the town’s Community Development Block Grant and work proposed at Highland Community Center.
Town Manager Katrina Tatum gave a lengthy update on the history of the grant, which includes the rehabilitation of some houses and improvements at Highland Community Center. At Highland, Tatum said there have been delays because of environmental issues at the site, and one extension of time had already been requested and approved by the North Carolina Division of Community Assistance at the Department of Commerce. But, Tatum said, there is still a need for another extension for time to do a phase-two abatement of contaminants on the property.
“So we requested a second extension,” said Tatum. “It was written on June 17, and we submitted it on, I think, the 18th or 19th for Mayor Almond’s signature. She said she wasn’t going to sign it.”
It was Almond’s refusal to sign that document that precipitated last night’s meeting, which was called by Mayor Pro-Tem Tim McAuley and Commissioner Paula Covington.
Mayor Almond told WMTG yesterday she wasn’t sure the meeting was “legal” based on the requirements of public notice laws, but she did not offer any indication that she may not participate. In her statement, Almond pointed to the recent resignation of grant administrator Mary Beck as one reason for the lack of progress toward work specified in the grant.
In emails obtained from the Division of Community Assistance, it was revealed that Mayor Almond had repeatedly referred to the Highland Community Center as the “black community center”, and, speaking to Commissioners, Highland director Mary Pemberton took issue with the reference.
“I’ve been in Mount Gilead all of my life, off and on,” Pemberton said. “I went to school at the school across from McAuley Church, and it was the ‘colored school.’ From the colored school, it went to Highland School. I am black. I have never the school to be classified as that.”
Pemberton continued, “So I want to ask the question: Are we talking about a ‘black community center,’ or are we talking about Highland Community Center? Cause there’s a difference, and I hope you all understand what I’m saying. I’m not disowning my race by no means, but to me, there’s two different community centers because all these years we’ve strived to have a community center and it was for everybody.”
“Off and on everybody has been there that wanted to come there at one time or another and I don’t think any race can come to Highland and say they were mistreated because of their race, so we still would like for it to stay ‘Highland Community Center.”
Highland Center board members Asia Dumas and Johnny Greene also spoke at the meeting.
Ultimately, Commissioners approved a resolution allowing Mayor Pro-Tem Tim McAuley to sign documents relating to the grant, including the request for an extension of the timeline, and they asked Town Manager Tatum to get in touch with Mary Beck to see if she may be willing to continue working as the grant administrator.
WMTG will air a complete rebroadcast of last night’s meeting. The program can be heard tonight at 9:00 p.m. at 88.1 FM in Mount Gilead, online at http://www.wmtg.org, and with the TuneIn mobile app.