This week’s meeting of the Maxton Town Board was supposed to be about finding ways to move the town forward in light of its financial problems. But at least one town commissioner insisted on rehashing the past.
Maxton Commissioner Cynthia Johnson, in what one witness called “a diatribe” assailed former town officials for the budget shortfall facing Maxton.
“They are the ones responsible for the town’s problems,” said Johnson, moments after calling out the names of the previous town council along with former Mayor Gladys Dean and former Town Manager Vincent Long.
Johnson said the new board, elected in November, is “trying to turn things around.”
” Why do you think (Local Government Commission official Sharon Edmundson) came down?” Johnson said. “She came down to help us avoid making the same mistakes that the last board made.”
Edmundson met with the council during a special meeting last week to make budget recommendations.
According to Edmundson, unless cuts are made quickly, the town will be broke by the end of the year.
Johnson’s words were met with both groans and applause from an ambivalent crowd in the packed Town Hall.
Commissioner James McDougald called Johnson’s comments “disprespectful,” adding that “regardless of (Johnson’s) grandstanding” the town still has problems to confront.
Taking a conciliatory approach, Commissioner James Womack implored the coucil to “move on.”
“It’s going to be all right,” said Womack before encouraging the council to focus on what can be done, rather than what has been done in the past.
Mayor Sallie McLean also chose to advise teamwork, refusing to comment on Johnson’s address.
“We’ve got to come together, as a town,” said McLean. “We need everyone, including citizens and this board, to work as a team.”
During the regular business portion of the meeting, the newest board members outvoted Womack and McDouglad three-to-two in abolishing five advisory committees created by the previous board.
The board also included in its agenda a request to abolish the Greater Maxton Area Economic Development Corporation. But town attorney Nick Sojka reminded the council that the GMAEDC is an independent entity, outside of the council’s authority.
Another action of the prior board rolled back during the meeting was a cost-saving arrangement made with the Maxton Chamber of Commerce, permitting the chamber to “maintain Elizabeth Cole Park, the strip of land on Water Street behind the Freight Building, and all recreation activities under the Maxton Recreation Committee.”
“The last two motions were destructive motions in my opinion,” said McDougald in his objection.
Concurring with McDougald, Womack also objected, saying that “doing away with these (advisory committees) is not solving problems – there is nothing negative about these committees.”
In defense of the vote to dissolve the town’s advisory committees, McLean said that the board was simply looking “to start fresh,” suggesting that new committees would be formed in an effort “to involve more people from the community.”
According to McLean, the advisory committees have been too directly influenced and managed by council members in the past.
In other business, a representative of “Keep America Beautiful,” a national beautification and anti-litter organization, officially welcomed Maxton as an affiliate of the organization.
The announcement represents the culmination of a year-long effort by the Maxton Tree Board to qualify the town as an affiliate.
“There are a number of criteria that have to be satisfied, including identifying high litter areas and creating a local board” said Jennie Stultz, a training director for the organization and former Gastonia mayor.
There are currently 31 other “Keep America Beautiful” affiliates in North Carolina.
“Keep Maxton Beautiful” plans to work with local schools in the upcoming year to encourage young people to take ownership of their community.
The local group also plans to coordinate and take part in community-wide litter cleanups and to encourage recycling and the adoption of areas by local organizations.
Also during the meeting:
-Angela Hutchins of DataMax collection services, the organization contracted by the town to manage collections, reported that in the past year approximately $26,000 was collected from the $325,772 in debt the town placed with DataMax.
“That is a little bit lower (collection rate) than typical, and the economy probably has a lot to do with that,” commented Hutchins, whose organization takes 25-percent of what it collects as payment for its service.
Former Mayor Gladys Dean chastised some in attendance as well as some on the council for their failure to pay taxes.
“There are people in this room who haven’t paid taxes in ten years and there are some on this board who haven’t paid their taxes either,” Dean said during the public forum.
Former town tax collector and current interim town manager Angela Pitchford told the The Exchange after the meeting that the blame for the failure to collect should not be on her.
“They’re not laying this at my feet,” said Pitchford, who’s been tax collector since 2001.
“I’ve done what my job requires me to do, including cold calls, talking to people, sending second notices, including foreclosing and I’ve gone to the mayor and to the commissioners asking them what else they would like for me to do.
“When I start foreclosing on properties, and doing what I’m supposed to do, then they’ll know why.”
Pitchford will continue to perform the duties of tax collector while serving as interim town manager.
-The council tabled discussion of renewing its arrangement with Waste Management following a presentation by a representative from that organization.
-The board finalized the appointment of Angela Pitchford to interim town manager.
-The board agreed to allow alumni of the now-defunct Carolina Military Academy to erect a monument to the academy in Elizabeth Cole Park.