Residents take center stage at Hamlet meeting

By: By Christine S. Carroll - Staff Writer

HAMLET — City Council members used their meeting Tuesday night to preside over a textbook lesson in governance.

Appearing during the “comments from attendees” section of the meeting, a handful of residents presented their petitions — to fight burgeoning crime, to build a beautiful fence on library grounds and to allow the keeping of chickens in the backyard — and council members listened courteously to both the residents and to one another.

There were even flowers — a bouquet of orange, yellow and white ones from the family of Earl Bradshaw, who died last week and who always had “loved City Hall,” Mayor Bill Bayless said.

Two items of business on the agenda died before they were brought up: A public hearing on a proposed solar farm was postponed until the presenters could be present. And a closed session requiring attorney-client consultation on “a personnel matter” was canceled.

Which left Terry Street resident Greg Shelley to begin the line of petitioners, asking the city to address a neighborhood beginning to be “clouded up with drugs and drug activity.”

“In the course of five, six weeks,” Shelley told the council, “we’ve had the police (and) ambulance (called to the street) five times,” once for a drug overdose and once for a fight filled with “cussin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’.”

Both incidents were emblematic of the problems occurring on Terry between Rollins Street and Hylan Avenue, Shelley said: They involved drugs and made his aged mother-in-law afraid in her own home.

Shelley’s companion at the meeting, Johnnie Brigman Butterfield, asked why Hamlet didn’t have its own narcotics officer because it certainly needed one. Citing a barrage of statistics she had gleaned from the internet, she declared that “I can’t imagine why we don’t have one.”

Summoned from the hallway, Police Chief Scott Waters told council members that officers had stepped up patrols and recorded license tags while “trying to build intelligence” in the area.

And council member David Lindsey assured Butterfield that the department was likely to receive the $48,000 it requested for a drug/gang officer because council members already had reached informal consensus on the request during the March 2 budget workshop.

Next up was Jane McCall of the Friends of the Hamlet Library, asking for permission to line a row of relatively new plantings on the library grounds with an attractive fence.

Council members voted for the fence — provided the Friends had a surveyor come to map the lay of the land first.

Then Robin Hewitt made the case for backyard chickens, which have been illegal within city limits since the 1970s — for what reason, no one could remember.

“(Residents) like to not have to hide their chickens,” Hewitt said. “They’d like them to be legal citizens.”

Chickens kill fleas and ticks, make great pets and good compost, and reduce their owners’ environmental “footprint,” she said. Plus, “it’s very entertaining (to) hang out in your backyard with a glass of wine and your chickens.”

Seeming oblivious to Hewitt’s puckish humor, council members proposed discussing the measure at a coming meeting, alongside the city budget, in part because they said they knew of several people who would like to raise chickens.

Members also welcomed Chuck Cobb of Richmond County CrimeStoppers and the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, recently elected president of the board of the Seaboard Festival, Hamlet’s signature event held each fall.

Longtime festival president Kim Lindsey resigned earlier this year.

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By Christine S. Carroll

Staff Writer

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]