The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 30, 2012

Board moves to silence mayor over School Street issue

By Jason O'Boyd, Staff Writer

Friday, November 30, 2012 — Discussion about repairs for School Street cannot be brought up by Jim Misenheimer while he serves as Richfield mayor, the board of commissioners voted unanimously on Monday. Whether Misenheimer really had the last word before the motion was passed depends on who is asked.

For the past two years, discussion about repairing the entire length of School Street has been a hot topic between Misenheimer and the board. The argument has been based on who has the responsibility of paving and repairing the last 70 feet of the road, which ends at a parking lot to Richfield Elementary School.

The board of commissioners voted 5-0 to table the matter and not allow the mayor to bring before the board any more discussion about School Street for one calendar year. Town Secretary Carolyn Capps confirmed the motion, which was made by commissioner Terry Almond and seconded by Barry Byrd, on Tuesday afternoon.

However, the mayor will have the authority to hand the gavel to the mayor pro-tem Terry Deese and come down from the board to make further discussion. That could happen in April when the commissioners will discuss the next fiscal budget.

So the issue isn’t dead yet.

Depending on who is asked, there are two questions that seem to be brought up at each of the previous meetings: who’s responsible for paving the road and why has it been brought up so many times.

Monday’s Meeting

Misenheimer brought up the issue of School Street during the old business portion of Monday’s meeting. He presented a letter to the board that was also copied for Dr. Terry Griffin, superintendent of Stanly County Schools, and Shelby Law-son, principal of Richfield School.

Misenheimer explained that Pate Butler and Lewis Mitchell, both N.C. Department of Transport-ation officials in Albemarle, said street signs could be put up that state not to block driveways on Main Street, where traffic has been diverted to pick up and drop off children leading up to Richfield School, located at 120 Morgan St. and adjacent to School Street.

The letter states that “The Town of Richfield just needs to report back to Ms. Butler as to the number of signs requested.” This was a recommended measure to help with the traffic on Main Street after a measure to divert traffic to Cemetery Street was voted down by the board in a previous session.

That discussion touched off a firestorm between members of the board, particularly Misenheimer and commissioners Terry Almond and Barry Byrd, in regards to School Street and its current status.

“This is a very heated discussion that we’ve had for years,” Almond said after Monday’s meeting.

“Jim, he’s an ex-educator. He’s like a bulldog, he doesn’t want to turn it loose.

“If he doesn’t get his way, he just brings it up every meeting, every meeting.”

At the previous month’s meeting, Misenheimer had presented members of the board with a multiple-page handout that, in his words, explained how the town was responsible for the 70 feet of road that currently is not paved like most of the others in Richfield. He was basing his information on the collection of state funds (Powell Bill funds) that the town has taken from the state for years to help maintain the street.

“The last Powell Bill report claims 883 feet as of July (1, 2012, according to a street mileage breakdown of Richfield in the report and provided to The Stanly News & Press),” Misen-heimer said after Monday’s meeting.

“The mayor in 1992 (Jim Ritchie) signed the Powell Bill report. Terry Almond, he was mayor and he signed it in ’97. Floyd Wilson was mayor and he claimed it in ’98. Wade Barbee claimed it in 2007 and I claimed it.

“I’m going to run for re-election in November (2013) and Richfield School, unless we have another school, is number one on my agenda to look after. For years, no one has paved this. The last time the town paved it, they stopped at this fire hydrant. There’s 70 feet the town didn’t pave the last time. I don’t know why they didn’t have it, but this time, they are going to pave it.”

Almond later made the motion to restrict the mayor from presenting any further information. The board approved it unanimously.

The exact quote used in the motion was to “not have it brought up by the mayor for one year.”

According to one expert, it crosses two competing ideas.

“It is the board which fundamentally controls the agenda,” said Frayda Blue-stein, professor of Public Law and Government at the University of North Carolina School of Government.

“There are cases where they may defer to a mayor or city manager, but they also have the right to change or amend an agenda, or they can table a subject,” she said.

“The board always has that authority.”

She said the way the motion is worded competes with the First Amendment, rights the mayor has as a citizen.

“I think what the board is saying is that they refuse to discuss the matter for a year no matter what, but if the mayor chooses to talk about it, they can’t fine him or put him in jail for that,” Bluestein said.

“And, there could always be a motion passed next month that could reopen the subject for discussion. However, the board has the authority to table any matter brought up at a meeting.”

Byrd, who is commissioner of streets and utilities and has jurisdiction over the matter, made a motion that the mayor can't spend town funds on the School St. issue without the board's approval. Almond seconded the motion but, after further discussion from the board, rescended the motion and it failed.

“They can shut me up, but someone who works at Richfield School or has kids or grandkids at Richfield School … if you don’t think they are going to come to the town and say ‘We’ve been paying state taxes for years and years and years,’ ” Misenheimer said.

“We have right around, give or take, you can call the town hall, $90,000 in Powell Bill money sitting in the bank. Why aren’t we spending it?”


Street Report

The report Misenheimer put together states the 883 feet measures from the beginning of the street “to the curve in the road (where the old Scout Hut was located).” The report also states “School Street also appears to line up with Rhea Street on the map as it does in real life.”

Rhea Street runs parallel to Cemetery Street and ends at the school.

Misenheimer’s handout also states that Stanly County Schools has never made repairs to School Street and that “no records found up to this date have indicated that any town board or former mayor in the past history of Richfield have ever questioned the town's responsibility for maintaining School Street." Misenheimer also says NCDOT has determined the 70 feet belongs to Richfield.

Misenheimer based his information after discussions with Judy Godwin, a former maintenance bookkeeper for Stanly County Schools who “worked at the Maintenance Dept. for approximately 30 years,” the report states.

“When the town was re-incorporated in 1941, when they first came out with Powell Bill money, we claimed every street but (Hwy.) 49 and 52 and there were a couple of others,” Misenheimer said. After the state paved them, we claimed them and we’ve been getting the money for them.

“I took a wheel and started out at the Methodist church and measured where the Powell Bill report says it ends. It ends right there (where the road ends and the parking lot begins). You can see the last time it was paved was probably 10 years ago. The town stopped the paving right there. That's not but 70 feet. Why are we arguing about 70 feet?”

Other Point of View

Almond said the issues with the street have been addressed and if further action needs to be taken, the board will consider it.

“We know School Street needs work and we’ve done what we think we need to do,” Almond said.

“We are a very conservative town. We do what we have to do, but we are not going to repave every street every year. We’ve done what we thought we needed to do but it’s not what the mayor wants done. So he won’t turn it loose. We are tired of it. We are absolutely tired of it.

“Down the road, things may change. We haven’t amended our Powell Bill money … 800 feet of the distance, I’m trying to say. We probably will, I don’t know.

“Now that we know that we legally don’t have the right of way on the school property, you know, we are opening ourselves up to take care of the street forever at taxpayer expense. We already spend money on the school … things … all kinds of things.”

In September’s meeting, Byrd presented a blueprint on a computer disc he said was provided by Todd Bowers, maintenance supervisor of the county schools. Byrd said the disc contained Richfield School’s blueprints which he said showed documentation of the road’s right-of-ways.

Byrd also said he verified the information by talking to Rogal Hudsucker, who he said last surveyed the property in 1999.

“Per that conversation, the town has absolutely no right-of-way on the back side of Richfield School,” Byrd said in the September meeting.

“We had already been advised on council by the town attorney to, under no circumstances, go on school property,” Byrd said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

“Tax dollars for the town of Richfield are not to be spent on private property. We open ourselves up to liability. We should not be on someone else's property.”

Byrd’s contention is someone needs to find out who paved the 70 feet of road before. There is currently no documentation regarding that matter.

“Just going on the information I’ve been given, just because we’ve collected Powell Bill money, I’m not sure if that requires us to maintain it or not.”

Part of Misenheimer’s argument is if there is a harsh winter, pot holes will form and repairs will be needed. A photo of the 70 feet of road that wraps the handout shows deterioration of the road compared to the portion that was previously paved.

“They say it doesn’t need paving. It doesn’t need paving right now, but you won’t find any road in Richfield any worse than this one.

“I knew I was walking into a trap. They have, for two years, for two years, since the principal of Richfield School has moved the traffic from the front to the back, have been vindictive toward the repairs on School Street,” said Misenheimer.

“… The Methodist church was complaining about pot holes. Since then, they have made spot repairs again and again and again but will not go on school property. Mr. Byrd used the excuse that it was school property, ‘We don’t go on school property.’

“Well, I now have the proof. DOT, the head guy, told me it’s not theirs. We took it over with our use of Powell Bill money.”

Staff writer Brian Graves contributed to this story.