January 7, 2016
This marks the end of my first month as the Mayor for the Town of Woodland. Although I had preconceived notions of what my “first month in office” would be, there was no way to have been able to predict how intense the first two weeks of my tenure would play out. All I can say is, “What A Ride!!”
As we are now all too painfully aware, during the meeting on December 3rd, which witnessed the swearing in of myself, as well as Commissioners Pat Liverman and Cecil Harkey; the Town Council entertained a request and proposal to consider rezoning a parcel of farm land from RA (Residential/Agricultural) to M2 (Manufacturing), so that a solar farm could be installed on the property.
After hearing from several citizens of the Town of Woodland, who vehemently opposed the installation of a fourth solar farm near our town; as well as representatives of Strata Solar Company, and Mr. Blow, the owner of the property in question; the Town Council made the decision to deny the request to rezone the property. Later in the meeting, this governing board also declared a moratorium on any further properties to be considered for rezoning by Woodland's Planning Board and Zoning Board.
All of this information was reported five days later, in the December 8th edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald by Keith Hoggard. If I may so, I thought Mr. Hoggard's article was accurate and it captured the essence of what had transpired during that portion of the meeting.
It was; however, unfortunate that some of the comments made during the meeting, were included in the article. Those comments, along with the Town Council's decisions, came on the heels of an International Summit Meeting, which was attended by World Leaders in Paris, France.
The purpose of that Summit Meeting was to discuss alternatives to burning fossil fuels, which are believed to have polluted our air and are believed to have caused global warming. During that meeting, the leaders discussed the need for the use of clean energy, that would not continue to pollute our atmosphere, or contribute to the effects of global warming. During that same meeting, wind energy and solar energy were declared as good alternatives to the use of fossil fuels.
To say the least, it was really bad timing, that Mr. Hoggard's article regarding the decisions made by this Town Council, came out at that particular time. The fact that the article included some of the comments by our citizens who opposed the use of solar energy and who questioned the potential risks and dangers solar farms could create, simply aggravated the situation.
Furthermore, we witnessed first hand just how powerful the world wide web can be, with regards to disseminating information. Mr. Hoggard's article gained world-wide attention and went global. We began receiving telephone calls and electronic messages from as far away as Russia, Germany, China, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and just about every state in the country. It only took four days from the date the article was published, for all of this to happen.
The Town Council welcomes any comments any of our citizens wish to make during any of our public hearings, or Town Council Meetings, which is why we allow for Public Comments at two different times during our meetings. We need to hear from you, so that we can govern this town according to the wishes of you, the citizens of Woodland. After all, we represent you and your interests. That being said, please take time to think about what it is you would like to say and please don't say anything that you would not want to see on the front page of the newspapers. Because as we have all seen, it just may happen to you!!
Please stand and join me as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Please remain standing for a moment of silent reflection, as we prepare to address the matters scheduled to come before this governing body.
We need to schedule Work Sessions for the Town Council, so that we can address a number of issues in greater detail, before this governing board can take action on them. No formal action can be taken by the governing board at these meetings; however, it will serve as an opportunity for us to address some of these very important matters. I am recommending that we schedule one Work Session per month for the next six months (February through July), on a day and time that is convenient for all of our Town Council Members. This way, we can place the schedule in the newspaper ahead of time and everyone will know of our intentions far in advance. We can decide which issues will be reserved for each meeting at a later time, based on need and priority.
Installation of New Well – We need to discuss a plan of action for a new town well and identify any and all properties within town limits that may be considered for use for this project. We also need to work on identifying potential funding sources (grants and loans) that may be utilized to pay for this project.
Sewer System/Water Treatment – We received a very alarming report last month regarding the current status of our sewer and water treatment system. We now know that we need to start working on a plan of action to address the multiple problems concerning our water treatment system and identify potential funding sources (grants and loans) that may be utilized to pay for this project.
By-Laws - The Town Council needs to adopt procedural rules for how it will operate and govern the Town of Woodland, which would include a Code-of Conduct for the Mayor and Council Members, as well as a written explanation of the duties and responsibilities for each Commissioner Position. As I have learned in the “Orientation Class for New Mayors,” Town Boards should have a written guide to procedures.
This guide must take into consideration state statutes and the Town's Charter. This may require more than one work session. We can obtain a copy of the Northampton County's By-Laws to help us. We can also use the pamphlet, “Suggested Rules of Procedure for a City Council,” which is published by the Institute of Government.
Process for Releasing Records – We need to establish a written, standard operating procedure for releasing records. Many individuals and news agencies have been requesting copies of the Minutes from the 12/3/15 meeting and we need to set up a process by which any documents which come under the Public Information Act can and should be released, including the fees.
Financial Records and Budget – We need to have a work session in order to help the new members of the Town Council to understand the financial record keeping system of the town, which will help us to understand and assist in the preparation of the Annual Budget.
CADA Building – We need to address problems with the building which is the home of the Head Start Program, run by the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA). It was brought to my attention that the the town owns the building and there may be an on-going problem with a leak in the roof. There are some other issues with regards to this building which requires our immediate attention.
NEW COMMITTEES TO BE ESTABLISHED
I have found the need to establish several committees, which will assist us in trying to create a more active community for all of our citizens. I would like to get representatives from all of the various neighborhoods in the town on each committee to help spread the workload, and to also share with the leadership and problem solving issues of the town. This will hopefully also help to bring our town together and take us one step closer to being a “Community of Friends.”
Special Events Committee – This committee will be responsible for creating and establishing special town-wide events. Examples would be: The Woodland Craft Fair, our Town-Wide Yard Sale, Christmas Caroling and/or Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Easter Parade (with assistance and participation from local churches), Easter Egg Hunt, National Day of Prayer, Woodland Day (to celebrate the Town of Woodland, its history and its citizens), First Night Out (for safe neighborhoods and public safety), Youth Day.
Recreation Committee – This committee would be responsible for the establishment and oversight of regular, town-wide recreational activities. Examples would be: Programs for Senior Citizens (such as a meal/feeding program, perhaps similar to meals on wheels), Youth Recreation Program, After-School Program to not only work with school work, but to also teach young people life skills (such as sewing, ironing, filling out a job application, balancing a check book, etc.), or teaching them through hands-on work about the building trades (such as small engine repair, carpentry, plumbing and brick masonry).
Grant and Fund Raising Committee – This committee would be responsible for helping to identify and secure various sources for raising money for various town projects, such as the installation of the new well, the repairs for the water treatment system, recreational activities and special events.
Orientation for New Mayors - On Friday, December 4, 2015, I had to opportunity to attend the Orientation for New Mayors Seminar, which was held in Greenville, NC and sponsored by the North Carolina League of Municipalities. It was an excellent one-day event, which covered a lot of subject matter, including statutes governing municipal governments, running meetings, the role and function of a mayor and dealing with the news media ( that sure was timely!!).
Woodland Town Fair – On Saturday, December 5, 2015, We held the Woodland Craft Fair, here at Town Hall. It was very well received. We had 12 vendors (2 did not show) and it was a fun time had by all in attendance. The vendors were all very pleased with the support from the town and surrounding community. They have all stated that they would be very much interested in attending any craft fairs we decide to hold in the future. We are looking to sponsor another one in November 2016.
Christmas Caroling – On Saturday, December 14, 2015, a group of 14 brave souls, met at the parking lot behind Town Hall and went Christmas Caroling on a trailer owned and driven by Brian Christison. Although I had initially wanted to go to every house, that plan was a bit too bold; however, we did go to every neighborhood throughout Woodland and brought a lot of Christmas Cheer and warm feelings to everyone we met. I cannot say enough about our singers, who were just awesome in voice and spirit. We also handed out candy canes and Christmas Cards from the Town of Woodland. Later, everyone was invited back to our house for refreshments. I think it was a good time had by all.
Essentials of Government - Training - For two days (March 4th and 5th 2016), myself, along with Commissioners Pat Liverman and Cecil Harkey will be attending a two-day seminar entitled “Essentials of Government” which will be sponsored by the League of Municipalities and held in Greenville, NC. I am looking forward to the training, as it will be an opportunity to learn more about how best to serve this community and the citizens whom we represent.
Easter Parade and Easter Egg Hunt – My wife, Pattie and I, are considering trying to put together an Easter Parade and Easter Egg Hunt near the middle of March. I am hoping to be able to get the local churches and ministers involved, as well as the Northampton County High School Marching Band, our police, our fire department and anyone else who is interested in joining in the planning of this event.
Ministerial Alliance – I have made an effort to visit every church in the Town of Woodland (except the Jehovah's Witness Hall which I will go to this Sunday) in an effort to introduce myself to everyone and all of the church leaders of this community. I think it is imperative that we establish a Community Based Ministerial Alliance. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in Woodland and we need the support, guidance and leadership of our spiritual leaders to assist us with the many tasks at hand.
August 2016 Meeting - On August 3, 2016, Pattie and I will be in Florida, attending the wedding of our son, Joseph Salem. As a result, I will not be able to attend the regularly scheduled Town Council Meeting on Thursday, August 4, 2016. The Town Council has a choice to either have the meeting as scheduled, or re-schedule the meeting for the following week, August 11, 2016.
Special Thank You – I would like to extend a very special “Thank You” to Kim Bryant and Jean Bryant, for their handling of the Solar Farm Issue. Kim was at “ground-zero” when the telephone calls and emails started coming in and which eventually inundated our office. They both handled the various calls (some of which were quite offensive) with professionalism and grace. They are both to be commended for the way in which they handled this matter.
A special “Thank You” is also extended to Commissioner Ron Lane, who provided such great council to me, during this critical period of time and who was essential in drafting the statement which is now on our Website, addressing the matter of the solar farms. I really do appreciate your patience and knowledge of the issues involving the Town of Woodland.
I also want to thank Commissioners David Cooper, Pat Liverman, Cecil Harkey, for helping us to come together as a board so quickly. Had it not been for this situation, it would have taken a much longer period of time for us to come together as a solid, organized, governing body, but the solar farm issue forced us to work closely together and to ensure that we were all on the same page. Your time and energy are greatly appreciated.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the citizens in Woodland who supported the Town Council in this matter and expressed their concerns and love for the Town of Woodland. During my campaign, I told everyone that I met, that I wanted to instill a greater spirit of community in our town. I am so thankful to God, that this matter came to be, because it helped to bring us all together a little bit closer and it also helped to increase our spirit as a community. So, my thanks goes to all of you.