LAURINBURG — Mayor Matthew Block continues to disagree with assessments that there is no need for the Laurinburg City Council to revote on a request to spend city dollars at a news station that employs a council member’s brother.
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 in an email to staff and council members, said that council needs to hold another vote on the matter because council member Mary Jo Adams’ brother, David Bridgeman, is a manager at the ABC affiliate.
“It doesn’t, in my opinion, pass the good government test,” Block said. “The average person would definitely see this as a conflict of interest that an elected official is voting to send citizens’ money to an organization that employs that official’s brother without disclosing that relationship.”
But City Attorney Bill Floyd and Frayda S. Bluestein, a law professor at the UNC School of Government, said that Adams’ vote does not violate state statues and a revote is unnecessary.
Block disagreed and suggested that both attorneys were biased in favor of Adams. Block said he plans to “clear up” the issue at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“If Ms. Bluestein doesn’t see this as an ethical lapse — that an elected official votes to send citizens’ money to her brother’s company, I think she needs to brush up on her ethics,” Block said.
Block added that Bluestein’s response did not surprise him.
“I certainly didn’t expect Ms. Bluestein to argue otherwise, given her long-term relationship with Councilwoman Hammond.”
He also said the city’s attorney was trying to downplay his concerns.
But Floyd repeated his assessment that “there was not a legal conflict of interest.”
“Whether there was an ethical duty to disclose is a political debate that I will not be drawn into,” Floyd said in an email to every member of council. “Neither my opinion nor Ms. Bluestein’s comments contained any conclusions about whether Council member Adams had an ethical duty to disclose that her brother worked for WPDE. I do not know whether she disclosed this or not.
“The only issue I considered was whether she had a legal conflict of interest that would allow or require her to recuse herself from the vote. That was the narrow issued presented and that is the issue I addressed.”
Council member Dee Hammond said Block was incorrect if he thought she and Bluestein were friends, adding that the legal scholar would “not know me if I walked in front of her.”
“In Mrs. Bluestein’s position at the School of Government, she works with elected officials and clerks throughout North Carolina,” Hammond said “I think he said that because I worked for the city and I’m a member of the International Clerks Association.”
According to Hammonds, council voted to help fund the television promotions because they are beneficial.
“I think it would have passed unanimously even if she recused herself because it was the right thing to do to promote of city and county,” she said.
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171