Overheated board meeting sees heated discussion
by Staff Writer
DAVIDSON – The air conditioning was broken in Davidson’s town board meeting room Tuesday night, July 12, and some would have compared the stifling heat to the tone of much of the discussion.
Early in the agenda, Leslie Willis gave her first presentation to the board as the town’s new healthy living/wellness supervisor. Willis talked about her plans to conduct a survey of town residents’ needs, organize a healthy living fair and healthy cooking classes and renew the town’s Walk to School program.
But when Mayor John Woods asked for audience comments, River Run resident John Allen took the opportunity to say he judges a town’s health differently.
“A healthy community is not $50 million in debt and not able to pay off its bills,” said Allen, referring to town’s continuing obligation to cover the debt of MI-Connection, the broadband company the town purchased in 2007 along with Mooresville.
Allen complained about the town board raising his tax bill, not protecting residents from robberies and not cutting costs where possible.
Then, he returned to MI-Connection. Pointing out he’s a MI-Connection “triple-play” customer, he wanted to know why town officials have not devoted more energy to getting Davidson College, “the town’s biggest employer,” or Lowe’s Companies, with its headquarters between Mooresville and Davidson, to sign on with MI-Connection.
“I think you have to look seriously if this is a healthy board,” he added.
The discussion then moved from the health to affordable housing.
David Tinkler, a member of the Davidson Housing Coalition board, took the podium first to praise the town’s efforts to preserve affordable housing. He is proud of the diversity program that enables “school teachers, bank tellers and police officers” to afford to live in the Davidson.
At the same time, Tinkler took care to note, “I am not commenting on the procedural issues,” referring to the way in which the town board decided to spend $280,000 to buy and complete two homes in the Bradford community for the Affordable Housing Program.
At the end of their June 14 meeting, after a 45-minute closed session when no one but town staff remained, Woods and commissioners convened a 10-minute open session where they approved the purchase.
The nature of the vote has prompted letters to the editor and calls to Woods and commissioners, questioning the nature of the action and also why officials felt the need to use the town’s fund balance to purchase private homes.
These are the first homes the town has ever purchased for the program.
After Tinkler spoke, Rodney Graham, who is running for a town board seat, rose to say that, as a builder, he supports the Affordable Housing Program, including investing his own money.
“People’s objections have nothing to do with a lack of support for the Affordable Housing Program,” Graham said. “But a lot of people have a lot of questions” about how the decision was made and why.
Woods took responsibility for allowing the board to vote in the 10-minute open session and the ensuing public confusion. “There was no intention to hide the intent of the board or the actions of the board,” he said.
Indeed, later in the meeting, Cindy Reid, who coordinates the Affordable Housing Program for the town, said she asked the board to move forward because she hopes families can move into the houses before school starts. Reid said the housing coalition has qualified buyers for the three- and four-bedroom homes, both offering to pay more than the town is investing. The town has one “offer in hand” to buy one, Reid said, and an informal offer to lease-purchase the second home.
The town has not previously been able to offer affordable single-family homes to larger families and the homes have sat for three years unfinished and without landscaping, Reid said.
As if replaying the discussion that no residents heard in the June 14 closed session, commissioners Laurie Venzon and Connie Wessner then took turns explaining the issues commissioners considered before approving the purchase in the miniature open session.