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Council votes no confidence in elected leader

By Staff
Belhaven mayor considers vote a ‘badge of honor’
By EUGENE L. TINKLEPAUGH, Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — “Gross misuse of the office” led a majority of this town’s duly elected (or appointed) council to issue a vote of no confidence in Mayor Adam O’Neal.
The motion was brought to the table by Councilman Charles Boyette following a lengthy grievance-airing session of council members.
In his motion, which included a directive that the council establish a new effort to make the town function, Boyette charged that O’Neal had abused the power of his post.
Preceding the 4-1 vote, O’Neal said he considered the motion “a badge of honor to be given a vote of no confidence by the Boyette Machine.”
Councilman Steve Carawan opposed the vote and in the council deliberations on the matter endorsed the mayor’s actions condemned by the council majority.
Council members Boyette, Al Baker, George Ebron Jr. and Cynthia Heath respectively presented grievances with the mayor and his style of leadership.
O’Neal followed the comments of the council members with an address of his own, saying his style was to go after things that to him didn’t seem right.
O’Neal charged council members and the town administration with misrepresenting facts and “telling outright lies.”
The council revisited past motions and actions in what became a year in review since O’Neal took office.
The spark of the discussion was civil action the mayor took a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to get public records that he said were not being produced by Town Hall after several requests made publicly and formally.
O’Neal is suing the town council as a whole and the council members individually as well as Town Manager Tim Johnson and Marie Adams, the town clerk, for records he initially requested in August.
O’Neal asked for all e-mails, letters and memoranda generated from Town Hall. The town manager has said the mayor’s request was too vague and that he turned over all records he considered part of the request.
Conversely, Johnson has been attempting to obtain records reportedly in O’Neal’s possession. All correspondence generated from O’Neal as a Belhaven official is public record and is subject to record-retention laws, which Johnson says the mayor is violating.
The day before O’Neal filed suit against the town, Johnson said Monday, the mayor turned into Town Hall 65 pages of correspondence.
The meeting dissolved into bickering several times throughout the night.
Heath said the mayor’s “punitive arrogance and responses given when a council member or the town manager or a citizen that does not agree with you” has taken its toll. She called O’Neal the “author of discord and acrimony.”
Carawan, in defense of the mayor, said that O’Neal was “working in an extremely difficult situation where no one other than myself is giving him the time of day. … I don’t see him getting any help.”
O’Neal’s lone ally on the council, who also works with the mayor in his real-estate business, said, “I think the mayor’s doing a fantastic job.”
Baker said he wanted to see the council “work in harmony rather than arguing and carrying on.”
The councilman specifically cited the public criticism of town employees and town officials, which O’Neal has voiced at town meetings.
Ebron touched on the mayor’s practice of bringing items to the council and requesting a motion without the item appearing on an agenda and without providing background materials to council members prior to that meeting.