LAURINBURG —Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block has asked for a “re-vote” on the city’s decision to help fund television segments promoting Scotland County because a council member’s brother works at the news station where the series is produced.
The Laurinburg City Council voted unanimously in August to allocate $3,466.68 for “On the Road with Cecil,” a WPDE program of 30-minute segments promoting business, organizations and events in Scotland County.
Block expressed concerns this week that council member Mary Jo Adams took part in the vote to allocate the money when her brother, David Bridgeman, works as a manager at the ABC affiliate.
“I would like to re-vote on funding WPDE in view of the evident conflict of interest where Councilwoman Adams brother works for WPDE,” Block said in an email to City Attorney Bill Floyd.
But Floyd said after reviewing state statues, it does not appear that Adams violated conflict-of-interest rules.
In an email to Block and the rest of council, Floyd said council members are required to vote unless the matter involves a member’s own financial interest or official conduct, or it is a matter that the council member is prohibited from voting on.
“It is clear that the contract with WPDE does not involve the council member’s own financial interest since she is not directly or indirectly benefiting financially from the contract,” Floyd said. “The fact that her brother works for WPDE is irrelevant … and in no way restricts the council member’s vote on the matter.”
Floyd also consulted with the NC School of Government on the issue.
Frayda S. Bluestein, the David M. Lawrence Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agreed with Floyd’s assessment.
“I think your analysis is 100 percent correct,” Bluestein said. “The council member had a duty to vote and based on your description of the facts, there is no requirement or basis for her to be excused from voting.”
Bluestein added that there are times when ethics codes will have language about avoiding even the appearance of a conflict.
“But in the case of the council members, the law that requires them to vote — unless they have a statutory basis for being excused — supersedes the ethics code,” she said.
Block had asked that the re-vote be placed on council agenda for the September meeting.
The mayor suggested — without proof — that council meets in secret and that could make Adams’ vote problematic.
“Though the vote was unanimous, council has been very clear that they discuss issues in private and therefore the other council members vote may have been influenced by Ms. Adams without their knowledge of her compromised position,” Block said in the email. “This must be a discussion and vote done in public view to remove any appearance of impropriety by the city.”
But Floyd said that there is no need for a re-vote on the WPDE contract.
“Adams not only had the right, but the obligation to vote on the WPDE contract,” the attorney said.
The WPDE series is produced in conjunction with the Scotland County/Laurinburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Scotland Health Care System, Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, the city and Scotland County Schools.
Adams said she voted for the project because it helps promote the city and county.
“I made the decision, in good faith, to support the chamber of commerce’s “On the Road with Cecil” project,” Adams said. “I received no personal gain. I believe in cooperation and collaboration to support efforts that are beneficial in attracting jobs and tourism to our community.”
The program is hosted by longtime Pee Dee television personality Cecil Chandler, and has featured local entities like Southeast Farm Equipment, 215 on Main, Scotland High School, the John Blue House, St. Andrews University, Scotland Memorial Hospital and the Chalk Banks Challenge in Wagram.
“This project was initially discussed over a series of council meetings between December 2015 and March 2016, during which the accuser had been elected mayor, but was not present,” Adams said. “I stand by my vote.”
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171