HAMLET — In a contentious Facebook back-and-forth Wednesday afternoon, three City Council members rehashed their opposing votes on the town’s fiscal 2019 budget, with one member calling another out for missing what he said were three recent council meetings.
The exchange began when commenter Greg Haywood of Rockingham said he thought all of the Hamlet Council members were “a bunch of idiots” for spending $60,000 to refurbish a basketball court in south Hamlet. The court sits in a city park situated near public housing and a Head Start center, and contains less play area and equipment than do other city parks.
“What’s more important, a basketball court or the people’s safety?” Haywood asked, apparently referring to the council’s refusal to budget for a gang/narcotics officer the Hamlet Police Department asked for. “I know next election, these idiots won’t be there any longer (because) the City Council has used its power in the wrong ways.”
Council member Johnathan Buie picked up the gauntlet, asking, “How much do you know about the basketball courts that are being repaired?” and finding a defender in Carrie Thorpe Mabe of Ellerbe.
“It keeps our youth — and young adults — busy,” she said, defending financing of the basketball court. “They become a team and begin working together. … It’s a ballfield/ball court or the streets.”
Buie invited those with an opinion to attend council meetings — if they were Hamlet residents. Otherwise, he said, they had no reason to worry about how Hamlet spent taxpayers’ dollars.
Soon after, council member Wendy Massagee joined the conversation, saying she understood people’s “frustration” with the budget.
“I am on City Council,” she wrote, “and I voted against the budget.
“It did, however, pass by majority vote” 0f 3 t0 1, with Buie, Eddie Martin and Jesse McQueen voting “yea” and Massagee, “nay.” (When the council does not vote unanimously, the split often is 3-2: Buie, Martin and McQueen vs, David Lindsey and Massagee.)
Buie countered: “I don’t understand the frustration. … We spend money, there are complaints; we don’t spend money, there are complaints.”
To which council member McQueen answered: “Johnathan M Buie: Exactly! Maybe there wouldn’t be frustration if she had not missed three of the budget meetings.”
“If nothing else,” Buie answered without addressing McQueen’s remark about Massagee, “I am frustrated with the petty (comments). We are here for the citizens, not friendships. … It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”
Buie then returned to the issue of the park: “It cost $60k, people. Do the research.
“Of a multimillion-dollar budget, we are talking $60k. Do these kids not deserve this? …
“The condition of these courts are in horrible shape, they are constantly utilized, and this community deserves to have the needed repairs.”
Massagee explained that she had excused herself “and left the budget meeting on March 2, 2018, because I refused to be bullied and threatened. I attended the other two budget meetings on Feb. 13 and April 10.
“I voted the way I thought best. I should be able to do so with out personal attacks.”
It is difficult to say why Massagee left a closed-door session March 20, a session she had requested and that was devoted to the recent firing of tax collector Jennifer Turner. But a few minutes into the session, Massagee left, carrying her files and labeling the session hostile. She, therefore, missed budget presentations by several city departments.
Part of the reason for Turner’s dismissal, City Manager Jonathan Blanton said soon afterward, was that Turner had set up a meeting to share information on city business with Massagee without telling her supervisor about it, behavior Blanton had told Turner before was inappropriate “in regards to chain of command.”
Wednesday’s Facebook comment thread ended shortly after Massagee’s mother, Linda Jean Robson, took aim at both Buie and McQueen — although Buie never made any comment on McQueen’s apparent barb about Massagee.
“By the way,” Robson wrote, “SHE has a name, and it is Wendy Michelle Robson Massagee.
“One more thing: This shows how much you disrespect women … Shame on you.”
McQueen responded that he found Robson’s charge “slanderous.”
And this is where we stopped monitoring: at 5 p.m.
For the record, McQueen and Martin have missed no council meetings, budget sessions or otherwise, since January. Buie has missed two meetings physically but attended and voted by telephone. Lindsey has missed two meetings, including Tuesday’s.
Also, none of the commenters cited in this article hails from Hamlet.
But there you have it: Governement officials in the sunshine.
Note: Facebook posts used in this article were corrected for spelling and punctuation only — not grammar — so they would be easier to read. Reach reporter Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]