Mount Gilead Commissioners meeting filled with tension, criticism

There were some tense moments at last night’s meeting of Mount Gilead Town Commissioners.

A large audience of local citizens listens as Mount Gilead (N.C.) Mayor Patty Almond recognizes Mary Pemberton, director of Highland Community Center, July 9, 2013. (Johnny Almond photo)

A large audience of local citizens listens as Mount Gilead (N.C.) Mayor Patty Almond recognizes Mary Pemberton, director of Highland Community Center, July 9, 2013. (Johnny Almond photo)

In the public forum, Jones Almond criticized commissioners over the water rate increase in the new town budget.

Almond said, “I would like to express my disappointment to the board, the Commissioners, because they raised the cost of water by 12.8% and added an assessment fee of $1.62 a month to the customers’ bills. You – Branson, Paula, Vera and Tim – have little concern for the people in this community who will be affected the most – the elderly living on a fixed-income Social Security check.”

Almond was intentional about directing his criticism at everyone but his wife, the Mayor.

“You notice I did not call out the Mayor’s name,” he said. “She was not in favor of this increase or assessment.”

In previous meetings, however, it was noted that the water rate increase is a pass-through of the increase coming from Montgomery County government, and the Mayor indicated her support of it when she talked about the full budget at the June 11 Commissioners meeting.

Speaking then of the proposed budget, Mayor Almond said, “This has our approval, it has our backing, and this is what we think is a good budget for our town.”

Also during last night’s meeting, Mayor Almond read a lengthy report on the timeline of the Community Development Block Grant. Over the course of about 14 minutes, Almond offered a number of personal comments as to the scope and administration of the grant.

Commissioner Paula Covington tried to stop Almond, and Covington later noted her objection to the report as out of order, and also asked Town Manager Katrina Tatum to refrain from responding to the questions and opinions raised by the Mayor in the report.

“The consent agenda was adopted and approved,” said Covington. “It did not include the Mayor’s response to the CDBG Highland grant timeline, so I see that this was out of order because it was not approved during the consent agenda. A more appropriate time may have been at the Commissioners Reports. I ask respectfully that you (Tatum) not give a rebuttal at this time.”

In her report, Almond referred briefly to a called meeting June 24 to deal with an emergency extension of the CDBG timeline, but she offered no explanation for her absence from that meeting or her absence at the budget adoption meeting held later that same week. Instead, Almond again questioned the legality of the called meeting, calling into question the amount of notice that was given.

Citizen George Knight had also tried to stop the Mayor, saying it was out of order for her to call on Tatum for a report and then insert one of her own. It was the second time Knight had called for order, the first time asking the Mayor to “take charge of the meeting” when a dialogue began between Tatum and citizen Ron Kincaid during the public forum. At this second instance, Almond responded by issuing a “verbal warning” to Knight, implying she would have him removed from the meeting, though he left on his own a short time later.

Further down the agenda, Highland Community Center director Mary Pemberton was called on to give an update on the center’s work. Pemberton said she was “too upset” to give that report, but she did talk about Almond’s reference to Highland as “the black community center” in an email to the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Pemberton said, “It did disturb me when I was in the Town Hall and Katrina (Tatum) pulled an email up and Highland was considered the ‘black community center’. Like I said in another meeting, I am black, I don’t mind being called black, but it depends on how you use it and what purpose you are using it for.”

“I won’t use that word ‘black community center’, because we don’t have a ‘black community center’. I wasn’t started as one, and as far as I’m concerned, it will never be one because it serves all races. If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, visit sometime.”

Earlier in last night’s meeting, Mayor Almond had honored Pemberton for her work at the center; but, at this point, Pemberton had strong words about her beliefs regarding the work of elected officials.

“It’s about working together and having a successful town,” Pemberton continued. “I’m 75 years old. We’re in worse shape now than we were in when we were segregated. At least we were able to work together. We don’t have that here anymore.”

“And if you get in a position (and) run for office to get somebody else out – and this is a constant thing all the time – I wouldn’t even hold the position. If I can’t get in something and help, I’m not going to get in it and pull somebody else down every day of my life. I’m not made up that way, and that’s what we’re living in. When are we going to change? Are we still living back in the 1950s?”

Pemberton concluded her remarks, saying, “You know, I’m almost ashamed to tell anybody that I live in Mount Gilead, and I love my hometown. I’d leave, but I’d always come back. Sometimes I ask myself the question now, ‘Why?’ You can just feel the evilness in it. When are we going to stop?”

Though not much business was considered at last night’s meeting, Town Manager Katrina Tatum did report that the town has received an extension of time to complete work under the Community Development Block Grant. The town will still need to hire a new grant administrator following the resignation of Mary Beck, who said earlier she could no longer work with the Mayor.

_____

Editor’s note: A complete rebroadcast of last night’s meeting can be heard Wed., July 10, at 9:00 p.m. and again Sun., July 14, at 9:00 p.m. on WMTG, at 88.1 FM in Mount Gilead, online from a link at http://www.wmtg.org, and with the TuneIn mobile app. Also during the public forum, Ron Kincaid questioned Commissioners about fuel purchases for town vehicles, and Woodrow Steele talked about the pending sidewalk project on N. Main St., from the railroad bridge to Parkertown Rd.

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