HAMLET — In a lengthy conversation that finished at nearly the same point it began, the Hamlet City Council on Tuesday chose to take no immediate action on the effort to reimburse 11 vehicle owners for the value of cars — cars which city officials allege former city police department employees wrongfully seized.
Early in the two-hour meeting, Hamlet Police Chief Amery Griffin presented to Mayor Jeff Smart and council members Pat Preslar, Abbie Covington, Tony Clewis, Johnathan Buie and Dewey Brower two lists of 11 vehicles in question. One list reflected Griffin’s research that put a Kelly Blue Book value on the 11 vehicles at a combined $18,713. A second list, this one from Joe Brown, general manager at the Griffin auto dealership in Rockingham, offered appraisals that reflected a value of $16,050.
Not included in either list is $660 that Oneail Patrick wants back after paying the police department that amount for towing and storage fees regarding his 1970 Ford pick-up truck.
City officials appear to be in agreement to try and make right with the vehicles’ previous owners whose cars were taken by Hamlet police officers and disposed of, resold or crushed, over a period of several years. They seemed unsure as to what step to take next, and Buie suggested the matter be tabled so council members, who received the list at the start of the meeting, could review the information.
Buie’s motion to table the issue until the January meeting died, however, for a lack of a second. Covington, who along with Brower and Smart presided over their last public meeting this term as elected officials, suggested city officials meet with the people involved to see how they feel about the amounts that could be offered by the city or its insurance policy holder.
Covington said she’d like to “mediate a settlement” between the city and the vehicles’ former owners, “starting with these lower numbers.”
But, she realized that it’s unlikely for anyone to “settle for less than (they) could possibly get out of it.”
Council members did not address whether those people, by accepting any settlement amount, would still be able to exercise their rights in a court of law.
Preslar, for his part, said the city needed to “put an end date” on the issue and place a deadline by which people could make a claim against the city. Preslar said he was unsure what a reasonable end date would be, as “I don’t know what ‘normal’” would be in a case like this.
City attorney Steve Futrell’s contract with the city was not renewed later Tuesday night by the new council after new members Eddie Martin and Jesse McQueen, along with Mayor Bill Bayless, were sworn in. During the early portion of the meeting, however, Futrell told Preslar and the council that the council is dictating its position as it goes.
“It makes sense to set a deadline,” he said, to “try to get this done without having to file a lawsuit.”
Futrell suggested a different path than the one desired by Covington. Meeting with the people, he said, could prematurely lock the city into a dollar amount that its insurance policy holder wasn’t willing to pay.
“You don’t want to misrepresent to these folks,” Futrell said.
City Manager Marchell David said the city had been unable to seek guidance from the N.C. League of Municipalities until it had an estimate of the value of the cars. Now that two such estimates are available, David said the proper course of action would be to address the regional group.
There was consensus with David’s recommendation to move forward and report to the League.