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Commissioners' vote violated their own rules

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A Montreat Board of Commissioners vote Jan. 12 to eliminate agenda meetings on a trial basis violated one of the body’s own rules, the board heard Feb. 2.

One of the commissioners' rules of procedures requires the board to hold an agenda meeting the Thursday before regular monthly meetings. A different rule states that amendments to the rules require an affirmative vote equal to or greater than two-thirds of the board’s membership.

Commissioner Kent Otto moved to stop holding the agenda meetings during a January meeting dominated by discussion about a potential town hall location. Mayor pro tem Kitty Fouche expressed her support for the motion.

Mary Standaert and Ann Vinson expressed a desire to continue holding the meetings, which take place the Thursday before the the board's regular monthly meetings and give the council opportunity to set an agenda.

Otto suggested a six-month hiatus to the agenda meetings - a move he called a "compromise." Voting with him for the motion were Fouche and Bill Gilland. Dissenting votes were from Standaert and Vinson.

On Feb. 2, interim town administrator Al Richardson, who served as the town manager for Black Mountain for nearly two decades, explained to four members of the board (Gilliland was absent) that changing the rules of procedure requires a two-thirds vote. The motion to eliminate the meetings for six months received three affirmative votes and two votes against, meaning the motion failed, Richardson explained.

Richardson knew about the rules and procedures, which he said were adopted by the town in 2002 from A. Fleming Bell, II's "Suggested Rules of Procedure for a City Council." But he did not realize a two-thirds majority was required to change them.

“Normally, in a case like that, a simple majority would carry that,” he said. “But the rules adopted by the town require more than that.”

The failure of the agenda meeting motion means the board will not be able to move its regular meetings from the second Thursday of each month to the first, which it also voted to do during the January meeting.

"I see no reason why we can't proceed with the meeting tonight," Richardson told the board on Feb. 2. "It's been advertised (as a regular meeting), but we will need to, next month, go back to agenda meetings and regular meetings on the first Thursday and second Thursday (respectively)."

In an interview on Feb. 2 before to the meeting, Helms attributed the failed motion partially to the learning curve on which the "new majority" on the board is operating. The board, which shifted positions on two controversial issues (town hall location and Texas Road bridge) following the 2015 election, is experiencing growing pains, Helms said.

"The last board, most of the votes were 5-0," he said. "Then it switched to 4-1 when I wanted to listen to a large group of people about the location of the town hall. Now there are a lot of 3-2 votes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing."

The trio of Fouche, Gilliland and Otto tend to vote "more conservatively," Helms pointed out.

"They like to keep the tax base low" Helms added. "Which is what the people want."

Helms, who once served on the town council and ultimately as mayor of Bessemer City, said he viewed Otto's motion to do away with agenda meetings as a fiscally conservative one.

"My role is to treat everyone on the board fairly," Helms said. "Try to get input from various members of the board. Not everyone in that group wants to be led by me - that's just a fact of life."

The division on the board will "probably be that way for awhile," Helms said. But he believes both sides are still willing to work together.

"Typically when the board makes decisions regarding town business, like equipment needed for employees and things like that, you will see them vote 5-0," he said. "A lot of the division is rooted in two issues (town hall and the Texas Road bridge) that the town has been dealing with for quite a while now, and that's not typical of what Montreat normally deals with."

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