HAMLET — If anyone thought that at least the first meeting of the new mayor and Hamlet City Council would be able to conclude without a bit of controversy, they would have been sadly mistaken.
Shortly after City Clerk swore in Mayor Bill Bayless and council members Jesse McQueen and Eddie Martin, an apparent rift was audible between and council member Pat Preslar when it came to the new council’s first vote. Bayless asked the council to amend the agenda and, as the new members’ first official act, to vote to immediately go into executive, or closed, session to discuss personnel matters.
Council members McQueen, Martin, Johnathan Buie and Tony Clewis each were heard to have supported the agenda change. Preslar couldn’t be heard, and McQueen called him out on the issue.
McQueen looked to his left and asked if everyone voted, then looked to his right, where only Preslar sat, and asked if Preslar had said anything. Preslar seemed to indicate there was already a consensus and no need for him to vote either way.
“It’s customary to say something,” McQueen said.
The closed session lasted approximately 25 minutes. Bayless and council members opened the second portion of the public meeting at about 8:26 p.m. Bayless noted that no decisions had been made but did not elaborate on what discussion took place.
The next order of business followed the re-appointment Tammy Kirkley as city clerk but, on a 3-2 vote, city attorney Steve Futrell’s appointment was not renewed.
“I think the council wants to go in a different direction,” McQueen said.
Each of the new city council members took their turn with general thoughts on the job ahead of running the city. McQueen said that while outgoing Mayor Jeff Smart and council members Abbie Covington and Dewey Brower would be missed, he noted it’s not often a town has the opportunity replace such institutional knowledge with nearly 85 years of public service of the incoming members, including Bayless, McQueen and Martin.
McQueen also said he felt the council should no longer address the issue of the alleged wrongfully seized and crushed cars before the courts weigh in on the subject in order to avoid potential litigation.
“I think we need to let the due process run its course,” McQueen said, and “leave issues of the law to the courts and not to the city council.”
Clewis, the former mayor pro-tem, said he took issue with some of McQueen’s comments. Clewis said he felt McQueen had conveyed the idea that the former council had “run (the city) into the ground.”
“I do not agree on that,” Clewis said.
Buie addressed the controversy.
“I know right now it feels a little tense in here,” Buie said. “That’s just part of a new board.”
Bayless said there would be no “personal attacks” in open session and such issues should be handled in closed sessions.
Each council member “has a right to comment, but we’re not going to fight over” the issues, Bayless said.