Tensions run high at city council meeting

By: Katelin Gandee - Staff writer

LAURINBURG — The Laurinburg City Council met for its monthly meeting Tuesday and it only took moments before the arguing began.

The spat started over the approval of the agenda, when Mayor Matthew Block said he thought there would only be a presentation by Tom Anderson with the state’s League of Municipalities, who had trouble rescheduling the presentation, along with a discussion about the hurricane relief efforts.

Councilman Andrew Williamson was the first to disagree, saying he understood it that they would move past the items that people were not present for but continue on with the public hearing and the rest of the agenda.

Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Jo Adams and Councilman Curtis Leak agreed with Williamson. The hearing itself was a request from James and Frances Willis, who were requesting their home be rezoned from Residential-15 to Office and Institutional to allow for the Willis’ to open a bed and breakfast in their home, which is located on Prince Street.

“I’m bringing it up because I don’t think this is the time or the place to hold a public hearing,” Block said. “After an emergency, many citizens are thinking we have a curfew still in place, and a concern about public access for a public hearing and rezoning with there not being any urgency to it.”

Block recommended the hearing be moved simply to allow for those who might not want the bed and breakfast on the street to speak. Leak asked the mayor if he was going to make a — which Block questioned.

“How many times has a mayor made a motion?” Block said. “Why do you keep asking? It’s insulting, so just behave yourself.”

Adams, however, believed that it wasn’t Block acting for the citizens but rather for himself and his dislike of the Willises.

“You have a personal agenda against the Willises and you’re putting that out there,” Adams said.

Adams asked Mac McInnis, the city planner/code enforcement officer, if anyone had brought concerns about the public hearing to the Laurinburg Planning Board, and McInnis said was no. The planning board had unanimously decided to approve the request.

The public hearing did continue and was approved 4-1, with Councilwoman Mary Evans the lone no vote.

However, the public hearing wasn’t the only thing that had the council arguing.

After the agenda was finally approved, the public comment period was held. Five residents stood to address the council, most commending the work done during the hurricane and praising the city workers. There was, however, a complaint about the draining system and about a call placed to the police department.

Resient Linda Huntley spoke about how there was never anyone on the non-emergency line and called it a city government failure.

Huntley explained that she had called the city’s non-emergency number — not the one at the Emergency Operations Center, because she didn’t know about that number — and never got an answer when her road was flooding.

“The citizens of Laurinburg deserve better than that,” Huntley said. “You should have manned phones …. You need to have somebody on the phones, answering those phones and helping people.”

The comment by Huntley had McInnis address council, saying that he did not appreciate what was said and that everyone in the city had done a phenomenal job during the hurricane. Block tried to explain that that wasn’t what Huntley was saying.

“You know who was answering the phone number there, Mr. Block, you know that,” Adams said. “That’s why you had Miss Huntley, who works for you, come to the meeting and read whatever you’ve worked on together today. There were people at the EOC 24 hours a day — they’re there now. There was a number that the radio station was putting out.”

After the public comment period, the arguments died down and the meeting continued.

Spats arise over agenda, rezoning request and handling of storm issues

Katelin Gandee

Staff writer

Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171 or at [email protected]

Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171 or at [email protected]