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September 25, 2013

Princeville meetings deemed illegal

City attorney says state statutes violated 3 times

TARBORO — PRINCEVILLE — Town Attorney Ben Brewington informed the Princeville Board of Commissioners board Monday that notices for three town meetings did not adhere to general statute requirements.

Brewington told the board during the board's regularly scheduled meeting that the March 28, April 26 and June 6 meetings notices did not list the purpose for the sessions and did not list the signatures of the majority of the board.

Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and Commissioner Isabelle Purvis-Andrews vociferously protested the meetings, saying they were illegal.

The March 28 meeting was an emergency called meeting, April 26 was a recessed meeting and June 6 was a special called meeting. Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews did not attend either of the special sessions which were called by the remaining three commissioners — Ann Howell, Gwen Knight and Calvin Sherrod.

The split board has clashed since shortly after the Local Government Commission (LGC) took over the town's fiances in July 2012. Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews have openly stated that the LGC should not have taken over the town finances, while Howell, Knight and Sherrod welcomed the state agency.

During the takeover, the LGC audit of the town finances found questionable credit card charges against Everette-Oates and former town clerk Diana Draughn. LGC also uncovered questionable travel reimbursement expenditures by Everette-Oates, Purvis-Andrews and former interim town manager Maggie Boyd.

Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews have denied any wrongdoing.

In an attempt to exonerate Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews, former Town Attorney Charles Watts wrote a letter to North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood on the behalf of the town.

Town officials have said contents of the letter are not public record, therefore pertinent details could not be obtained. Watts' letter was a response to Wood's concerns about the town's audit.

Apparently, Howell, Knight and Sherrod did not agree with the content of the letter. The trio called an emergency meeting on March 28, and voted unanimously against sending Watt's letter to the auditor. Instead, they wrote their own letter to Wood. That letter allowed Wood to pursue criminal charges against Everette-Oates and, on Aug. 8 Everette-Oates was charged with 17 counts of misappropriation of funds.

Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews argued Monday night that the meeting was illegal and therefore any action taken was a violation of the General Statutes.

"A lot of the investigations would not have happened if it wasn't for the improper meeting," Purvis-Andrews said.

Brewington told the board that, anything that occurred in the meeting is evidence by the notice.

"If there was a reversal or anything that wants to be changed from the meeting on March 28, it has to be raised as an agenda item," he said. "Any changes that will occur must be activated by the majority member of the board."

Howell said the decision will remain the same even if the issues are brought back before the board because the majority of the board feels the same now as it did then.

"I don't believe the majority of this board is going to undo anything that we've already done," she said.

During the April 26 meeting the board voted to hire an interim town clerk and the June 6 meeting the board approved for two volunteers to assist the town by performing duties of a town manager.

Everette-Oates and Purvis-Andrews were more adamantly against the March 28 meeting than the other two.

"It was illegal and improper," Everette-Oates said. "That means that it should not have happened. The state auditor did not accept attorney Watts' response because this meeting says not to accept it."

Purvis-Andrews said, "I need to find out what could be done. How can something go forth on an improper meeting?"

Brewington answered, "How can something go forward? Whoever was at the meeting voted on it. If something needs to be undone, it's up to the board to undo it."

In other business:

• By a 3-1 vote, the town approved seven consent agendas dating back to May 30, 2013. Information in five of the consent agendas were controversial and the board tabled them until Monday night.

• Chief Joey Petway announced that his department has hired a fifth officer — D.J. Pittman. The newest member increases the department to five full-time and two part-time officers. Petway told the board that his department will likely begin providing 24-hour protection. Because of the lack of a full department, the town has been using the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Department to assist with patrolling the town.     

• Unanimously approved a high-grass ordinance that will allow the town to mow lots in which grass is 10 inches or higher. The owner will be billed after the lots are mowed.

• Unanimously approved naming 407 Beasley Street, 306 Mutual Boulevard and 613 Newton Avenue as surplus property. The move will likely allow the town to sell the property.



 

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