Residents voice criticism of council members

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 11:11 AM

Indian Trail residents blasted council members in the first public comment period since a heated Feb. 16 meeting Tuesday night.
Several people spoke about the tied council vote to abandon contract negotiations with the Union County Sheriff's Office for town law enforcement and begin a municipal police department. Councilwoman Darlene Luther made the motion and Councilman Robert Allen seconded. With the absence of Councilman Christopher King, Allen and Luther's votes were tied with two others. Mayor Michael Alvarez first stated he would support Luther's motion with his tie-breaking vote, but eventually voted to defeat it.
The council held a special meeting last week to approve the contract. Luther and Allen were absent then and at Tuesday's regular council meeting.
Residents made their displeasure known about the motion and subsequent comments by council members following the vote. Former council member Shirley Howe said the Feb. 16 meeting should not have taken place. It was known that Councilman Christopher King and the town attorney, Keith Merritt, would not attend the meeting.
"At what point the council was made aware of this by the town manager, I'm not sure," Howe said.
The council should have canceled the meeting, she said, especially when the matter at hand was public safety service. The topic was important to residents and council members. Whether for or against renewing the USCO contract, many people wanted their viewpoint heard, she said.
"I question...how could you expect to discuss the contract that our attorney constructed per instructions per the instructions of the town council and the town manager," Howe said. "At this point, the meeting should have been canceled."  
She also questioned why Town Manager Joe Fivas, who usually guides the council on rules of order, did not suggest postponing the vote until Merritt was there.
"This, in my opinion, was a complete disservice to the council and to the citizens of Indian Trail," she said.
After the meeting, Howe said she learned there is a rule allowing an elected mayor to abstain from a tie-breaking vote, thereby defeating the active motion. Had council members, an attorney or the town manager known this rule, the town could have avoided the disorganization of the Feb. 16 meeting.
Kathy Broom spoke next, recalling that she was "appalled" by what she saw during the Feb. 16. meeting. She began to comment that Luther and Allen calculated a surprise vote on a police department when one UCSO-supporting council members was absent.
At the mention of their names, Mayor Michael Alvarez gaveled Broom down.
"Keep your comments specific to the council without names," Alvarez said.
"Ok, I'll call them dumb and dumber," Broom said.
"Please," Alvarez said, interrupting Broom. "Do it again and I'll remove you from the dais."
After haggling about terms a few moments, Broom went on. She said "the two council members" put into motion the goals outlined by the Indian Trail Citizens for Progress political action committee years before.
"The two council members knew that the mayor was weak and could not stand up to their pressure," Broom said.
Broom said Luther and Allen believed they could cause a council vote to approve the "biggest travesty in the history of Indian Trail." But Alvarez changed his vote and Luther's motion failed.
"To make things worse, the three musketeers couldn't leave the will of the people in peace," Broom said. "What did they do? They attacked the residents, the sheriff's office and particularly Lt. Coble.
"Mr. Mayor, in the newspaper article there was a lie," she said. "I was standing right there. That person was never threatened or intimidated. It was actually the opposite."  
Gary Evans criticized Alvarez, Luther and Allen for not coming to last week's meeting to approve the UCSO contract.
"You all were elected by the represent the people," Evans said. "Or, as we are so affectionately referred to by one of our council members as animals, lowlifes and most recently, lunatics."
He called on the three council members who were at that meeting to make a motion to ask for the resignations of Alvarez, Luther and Allen.
"And yes, the lunatics have taken over the asylum," he said. "And we're taking back our town to move forward in a positive and productive manner."
Robyn Fossdal thanked council members King, David Cohn and David Waddell for their vote to continue the UCSO contract.
"The three of you working together will bring back the respect, character and honor that once graced this beautiful town," she said.