LAURINBURG — Newly elected incumbent Drew Williamson does not plan to join two other recent winners for city council in opposing the new City Hall project.
“I was re-elected and I’m not going to change my vote,” Williamson said Tuesday of his initial support for the $9.1 million municipal complex.
Williamson’s remarks came after District 1 Councilwoman-elect Mary Evans urged city leaders to halt construction on the project. She said the council should focus on more important issues such as crime, job creation, improved infrastructure and recreation.
“One of the things that I was going to ask you all to do — the current city council — is to immediately stop the new City Hall project,” Evans said during the public comment portion of the November council meeting.
Evans and fellow Councilman-elect James GarbyJr. ran campaigns opposed to the building. But the newly elected officials will need at least one more vote on the five-member council to reverse the decision.
Incumbent council members Curtis Leak and Mary Jo Adams continue to favor the facility that would house police and all other municipal departments.
Evans said that last week’s election, where incumbents JD Willis and Dee Hammond lost their seats, was proof that there is real public hostility to the project.
She told Leak, who also represents District 1, that 70 percent of voters casting ballots there were opposed to the new complex.
“I think the community has spoken,” she said.
Mayor Matthew Block, also a critic of the new City Hall, made a similar argument to Leak.
“Your district said no to the new City Hall,” Block said. “Do you represent your district or not?”
Before Leak could answer, Councilwoman Adams suggested that Evans’ vote tally was no mandate. She said the former school board member only got a small percentage — 834 votes — of the more than 4,000 registered voters in District 1.
Willis, who lost to Evans, agreed that “citizens had spoken,” but that their decisions at the voting booth may have been misinformed. He said opponents to the City Hall project used Facebook to mislead people.
“Social media played an important part, but you didn’t always tell the truth about the matter,” Willis said. “It was used to … basically lie on people, that’s all it was.”
Willis added that the city is already working on the issues raised by Evans and that the city was in the “best financial shape” to take on the municipal project.
“The police station is a joke,” he said. “When you go down there and look at all the mold and mildew and all of that stuff, and see what these people have to endure day after day, it is just not right.
“So I stick by my vote and as far as I’m concerned, it is a done deal. It is time to move on. This battle is over.”
But Mayor Block continued to question Leak about the District 1 election results.
“This is an opportunity after the election to see if the strong statement by people in your district … whether you would take that into consideration,” Block said. “You are elected to represent your people, not the long standing desires of Curtis Leak.”
Leak, who said he did not plan not run in 2019, remained steadfast in his support.
“Looks like the show came to see what Curtis Leak thinks,” he said. “To all my critics and loved ones, welcome to the fight … the fight just started.”
Pastor Michael Edds also spoke Tuesday, calling some of the actions by council “an affront to democracy.” But Edds urged city leaders to find ways to heal the divisions caused by the rancorous election.
“I’m encouraging you as you leave office and those that are coming in to seek ways to compromise,” Edds said. “You can’t change the past, but seek ways to compromise and heal this city. It’s got a good future. It’s going to take leaders that are listening to the people and have a heart for the people and what’s best for the people and it requires some compromise to do that.”
Williamson said he looked forward to working with the new council members and Mayor Block.
“You will be sitting up here soon and I’m willing to talk about any issue you want to talk about, but for the record, I have made it clear that I am in support of the City Hall project,” Williamson said. “We do need to heal our city pastor. We’re better than this… we all are and Mayor Block, you are too. It is time we welcome our new council members and open minds to every point of view, including ours.”
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023