By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 —
Richfield Mayor Jim Misenheimer defended himself Monday night against allegations he had refused $50,000 in grant money for the town and once again refused council’s call for his resignation.
The debate and request came after the town council unanimously appointed former Mayor Floyd Wilson to fill the council seat vacated by Steven Morgan in November.
But, it was the continued tensions between the mayor and council that helped push the meeting’s length to almost two and a half hours.
The genesis of the story was a $50,000 grant from Walmart.
According to a press release from the Walmart Foundation sent to The Stanly News & Press Oct. 30, the Richfield store won a “Golden Spark” and, according to the release, “chose the Richfield community to receive a $50,000 grant from Walmart to help start a local backpack program. Today, Walmart awards that $50,000 in grants to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina of Charlotte.”
The release continued, saying the backpack program would be implemented in collaboration with Richfield Elementary over the next three years.
Council members were upset by stories they had heard over the past months that Misenheimer had told Walmart the town did not need and/or want the money, depending on the source of their information.
Commissioner Barry Byrd asked the first question, telling the mayor he could answer “yes or no” or could elaborate if he needed.
Byrd told the mayor the issue of Walmart giving a grant to the city had come to the council’s attention and he had two questions.
“Did someone from Walmart approach you and ask you or tell you that Richfield was going to receive a $50,000 grant?” Byrd asked.
“I’ll answer that, now what’s your second question?” Misenheimer responded.
The mayor added that when he responded, he would turn the gavel over to newly-appointed Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Almond and take the floor to give his response.
“Your question was ‘Was I offered money for the town?’ and ‘Was the town offered money through you?’ No,” Misenheimer said.
Byrd then said with that answer being no, “Evidently, if you didn’t receive that offer you couldn’t turn it down.”
Byrd then turned to Town Administrator Carolyn Capps and asked if a representative from Walmart had made an offer to the town to use as the town saw fit and was informed by the mayor the town did not want it.
“The gentleman from Walmart walked over here and he was looking to talk with the mayor,” Capps said.
“His statement to me was he couldn’t believe a mayor would turn down $50,000 for a town. And that was the reason he came over here. I wasn’t aware of any grant or anything until I had a later discussion with the mayor.”
Byrd then asked Capps if the mayor told her he was offered the money and he told Walmart the town did not need the money.
“Yes,” was Capps’ reply.
At this point, Byrd made the motion that council ask for Misenheimer’s resignation “due to the fact I do not believe he is looking out for the best interests of the town, taxpayers and citizens of Richfield.”
The motion was seconded by Almond.
“Jim, I think it’s time,” Almond said.
“You’ve demonstrated time and time again you don’t have the town of Richfield in your best interests. You’ve reprimanded all of us on the board. Time and time again, you’ve tried to get everything to run to suit you. All we do is make the papers. I think it’s time to do the manly thing.”
The motion passed unanimously.
Misenheimer said the council “did it the right way this time” referring to the previous attempt by council to get the mayor’s resignation.
“No, I’m not going to resign because I’m elected by the people for this position,” the mayor said.
He then turned the gavel over to Almond and made his presentation.
Almond said Byrd had some other motions to make, but Byrd did not take the opportunity to do so and there was no discussion about what those motions entailed.
Misenheimer said he welcomed the opportunity to speak and had been advised by some he should not talk about the matter unless the board broached the subject.
He presented Bruce Stiles as a witness to the conversation he and Michelle Harper, the former manager of the Richfield Walmart, had at a local diner.
“She came across and told me she had applied for a special grant from the Walmart foundation and it appeared they were going to get $50,000 and it’s supposed to be used to feed the hungry,” Misenheimer said.
“At that time, she did not say the town was going to get any of it.”
He added the town did get money before and the town was asked for their tax number, something the mayor inferred had not happened in this circumstance.
“She mentioned something about Stanly County Christian Ministries,” he said adding she told her there were local churches helping with the ministry as well as the backpack program at the school.
“She did not mention the backpack program or the Second Harvest Food Bank,” the mayor said.
“The only thing she mentioned was that it was for feeding the hungry.”
He repeated that he was not asked if he wanted it or if the town wanted it.
“I was told where the money at that time was going,” he said.
Misenheimer said there had been a lot of rumors since then.
“The truth is it was not offered to me or the town and I therefore did not turn it down,” he said.
As for what Capps had said, the mayor explained that some man, who he was not familiar with his involvement concerning the grant, contacted him.
He said he assumed it had something to do with a rumor that was going around about the local store.
“At the time he was questioning me, Ms. Capps only heard my side of the conversation,” Misenheimer said.
“If she told Mr. Byrd that I said, ‘We don’t want the money,’ I remember saying ‘We don’t need the money’ and there’s a difference when you take it in context of the conversation.
“What he was asking me was had I turned it down and I said no. Then he implied the rumor was I had turned it down. I made it real clear to him I was told it was going another direction.”
The mayor said he explained to this person there were many organizations within the community that helped with feeding the hungry and, at the most, the town only donates $500 per year to charities.
“I told him we don’t need the money,” Misenheimer said.
“If we got $50,000, and all we give per year is $500 and we don’t deal with the hungry, it would take us a hundred years to give the money out unless we changed our rules.”
The mayor said he does not know what happened and has not been able to find out exactly where the grant money is going.
“The thing that I am saying to this community is I was not offered $50,000 and I did not accept it and if Ms. Capps heard me say that we don’t need the money, what she heard was part of a conversation where she heard me talking on the phone.”
Misenheimer said Almond had spoken to the same man at a later time and Almond had heard a different story from the man.
Almond confirmed that was true.
“If Mr. Almond said he heard a conflicting story from the same man and Ms. Capps heard me say we don’t need the money, have I broken a rule of law or policy?” Misenheimer asked.
The mayor defended his work for the town, working for the park, fire department and other civic bodies.
“I wouldn’t be on the board if I didn’t love this town,” Misenheimer said.
“If the voters want me out, they will vote me out and I will gladly answer questions. But, when you ask me questions, tell me who told you these rumors.”
Byrd then commented saying, “What he stated sounded to me like it was exactly the truth.”
Both Byrd and Almond questioned the mayor’s judgement in not bringing the issue before the board earlier.
Speaking to Misenheimer, Almond said, “You let this fester to this point.”