Belhaven mayor asks to be kept in the loopNew letter goes against council’s direction to back off, By EUGENE L. TINKLEPAUGH Staff Writer

Published 2:40 pm Monday, July 23, 2007

By Staff
Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal is keeping his word.
At the town council’s last meeting, O’Neal said he was “going to keep right on doing” what a majority of the council called for him to cease and desist from. A letter the mayor penned Thursday follows up on that vow.
Last week, the council passed a motion authorizing the town manager to act as the town’s representative in a matter involving the state Department of Commerce. The motion also specifically directs the mayor to stop contacting state agencies with which the town is conducting business.
In a letter dated Thursday, O’Neal includes his account of recent developments on the Wynne View loan with a request that a state official forward him any correspondence between the state agency and the town. O’Neal frames the petition as a public records request, saying he will “continue to monitor this situation.”
But his letter, which calls into question the town’s decision to appeal a performance finding, may be for naught.
Deborah Barnes, a spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, said Friday that the town has been advised of the proper procedure for filing such an appeal, and that doesn’t involve the Division of Community Assistance, which is where O’Neal sent his latest letter.
The state Office of Administrative Hearings is the agency that will weigh Belhaven’s appeal if the town files one — not DCA.
O’Neal’s letter was sent to the director of the Division of Community Assistance, a division of the state Department of Commerce.
DCA and the Town of Belhaven had been negotiating the repayment of an urgent-needs loan granted to the town and passed along to Wynne View, Inc., the for-profit arm jointly owned by two local nonprofit boosters.
DCA closed out the project with a performance finding against Belhaven because of an unpaid balance on the urgent-needs loan.
The loan saved an entrepreneurial investment, the Wynne View building, from being condemned because of faulty construction.
Wynne View repaid a portion of the loan to the state upon the settlement of the lawsuit it filed against the building’s architect and engineer.
But the loan balance of $360,000 resulted in the performance finding, which prevents the town from receiving further assistance from DCA until the owed amount is paid in full or the performance finding is removed.
The town council has authorized an appeal of the finding, and O’Neal says he supports appealing the state’s decision.
But, he said, the appeal has been mishandled by town officials.
In O’Neal’s letter to DCA director Gloria Nance-Sims, the mayor alleges Town Manager Tim Johnson “has fabricated an entire paragraph of the June 11, 2007, town meeting minutes.”
Those minutes state that Johnson stated in the June meeting his intention to appeal the state’s performance finding.
Belhaven’s attorney, following the June meeting, sent a letter to DCA requesting advice on the proper procedures for filing an appeal. In a reply letter, Nance-Sims wrote that the town needed to provide DCA a certified copy of the official resolution authorizing the appeal. DCA had received two conflicting letters from town officials, which prompted Nance-Sims’ response.
O’Neal had advised the DCA director in a June 18 letter that the town council had not acted on nor authorized any such appeal.
In the mayor’s latest letter to DCA, he writes that the June town minutes are an attempt to “justify (Johnson) directing the town attorney to send (DCA) the improper letter concerning the appeal of your performance finding.”
At the town’s July meeting, O’Neal charged the town manager with fabricating minutes and replayed on a television screen a portion of the June meeting. Town meetings are taped and air on a local cable public-access channel.
Johnson said he stands by his assertion that he made those statements, but that he might have made them earlier in the meeting.
O’Neal enclosed in his letter to Nance-Sims a copy of the town minutes and a DVD of the June meeting.
Nance-Sims sent a follow-up letter to Belhaven officials dated June 26, where she advises the town of the proper procedure for filing an appeal.
The town has 60 days from the date of the letter to file its petition with the Office of Administrative Hearings, Nance-Sims writes.
The letter was sent to Town Attorney Keith Mason and copied to O’Neal and Johnson.