WDN Number 1 Top 10 of 2007
Belhaven cleans house
Mayor O’Neal excited about new direction
By PATTI TRUJILLO
Special to the Daily News
On Nov. 6, the people of Belhaven voted to allow incumbent mayor Adam O’Neal a chance to make good on his promises, this time with a mandate and a council that backs him.
The future of Belhaven is in his hands now. Charles Boyette, for 30 years the mayor and for seven years an alderman, is gone from the political scene. Boyette’s bid for mayor was soundly defeated in the election. O’Neal’s arch-nemesis, town manager Tim Johnson was fired at the first meeting of the new council on Dec. 10, immediately after the new council was sworn in.
Two years of bickering were ended with the sound of the gavel and a repeated request by O’Neal that Johnson “leave the meeting.”
After new council members Stanley Baker, Nelson Guy and Mac Pigott, were sworn in, Steve Carawan moved that Johnson surrender his keys, passwords and the towns papers and not be allowed on municipal property unless escorted by the chief of police and Guy. Pigott seconded the motion. There was no dissenting vote. Johnson tried to ask a question, but O’Neal gaveled him down and ordered him to leave the meeting. Reached after the meeting, Carawan said Johnson was fired “for a history of belligerence, abuse of citizens and lack of professional conduct.”
Two and a half weeks later O’Neal was still euphoric.
At the December meeting the council installed Guinn Leverett as interim town manager.
Since that meeting several pressing items have been addressed including the paving of Lee Street, which has been put out for bids.
Widening the road in front of the Belhaven Post Office should go up for bids around Jan. 14, according to O’Neal.
A delegation led by the mayor will meet in Raleigh about the $360,000 lien on Wynne’s View. The Division of Community Assistance grant issue must be resolved for the town to be eligible for other grants.
The fire station committee should meet in the next two weeks, according to O’Neal. He said that the USDA Rural Center has been very good to work with — they want to help Belhaven with a new firehouse, he said. The previous project, pushed through the council at a special called meeting on Oct. 26, awarded a contract to Hudson Brothers of Greenville, the construction company that won the $2.3 million bid for the Emergency Services Center. The project ordinance, originally adopted in 2005, was amended with 2007 cost figures, and details amounts appropriated for the project totaling $2,685,645.
Notice for the October special meeting was given to news outlets minutes before the start of the 48-hour period required by the state open meetings law. There were two items on an agenda intended to place the town’s proposed Emergency Services Center squarely on a track to construction. The agenda items were “to authorize myself to execute the documents and to adopt an amended project ordinance,” then Town Manager Johnson said in a telephone interview. Then-council member Cynthia Heath said “this is too important to relegate to whoever sits here in 30 days.”
O’Neal maintained the new ESC project could lead to a 42 percent property tax increase.
The council is now reviewing the youth recreation programs in town. They hope to expand programs in the summer.
O’Neal said the council is pushing a project to repair the town’s deteriorated breakwater. He said the paperwork is presently in the hands of federal officials in Washington., D.C.
At its regular January meeting, the council is set to initiate a tiling program beginning on Pantego Street to get rid of the ditches. “There are poisonous snakes — water moccasins — crawling out of those ditches,” O’Neal said. “We want the quality of life to improve for the people who live in Belhaven now. We are not focusing on the people who are going to live here in the future.”
Alderman George Ebron, a Boyette supporter, resigned at the December meeting. O’Neal invited West-side residents to submit resumes for the seat. Three people expressed interest and two submitted resumes, O’Neal said.
O’Neal said once-monthly council meetings “make the whole town slow down — the next two years will be the fastest two years in the history of Belhaven.”
The council approved meeting on the second and fourth Mondays of the month.