In a rare move among any local jurisdiction, Graham’s city council required council member Jennifer Talley to be removed from discussion and a vote on a proposed change to the city’s food truck ordinance that was pending before the city council Tuesday night.
Council member Melody Wiggins raised the issue of whether Talley had a conflict of interest as a downtown business owner in discussing a proposed food truck ordinance change being requested by Patrick Miller, another downtown Graham business owner.
The official term is “recusal,” which means a council or other board member usually requests to be excused from voting because of a conflict of interest, which state statute defines as having a likelihood of a “direct financial benefit” from a potential action of the board.
In almost all “recusals” taken by local town and city councils and boards of aldermen in recent decades, the request has come from the board member himself/herself, not from being imposed by his/her colleagues on the board.
While Wiggins’ original motion to force Talley’s recusal failed for lack of a second, mayor Jerry Peterman ultimately called for another motion, which Wiggins made again, this time with Peterman seconding the motion to force Talley’s recusal. Talley and councilman Ricky Hall voted against the required recusal; Peterman, Wiggins, and mayor pro tem Chip Turner voted to require Talley’s recusal.
As required by the imposed recusal, Talley did not comment during the council’s discussion of the food truck ordinance requested by Miller, or on other options floated by Peterman.
The board ultimately did not adopt the requested food truck change with members voting 3-1 to deny the request. Mayor Peterman was the sole dissent, with council members Turner, Wiggins, and Hall voting for Turner’s motion to deny the request.
The forced recusal is one so rare that no official contacted by the newspaper could think of a similar case – neither in Alamance County nor elsewhere across the state.
Frayda S. Bluestein, an expert in public ethics laws at the UNC School of Government, emphasized the same aspect that most local municipal attorneys have when various of their members have sought to be recused: members of public bodies are generally required to vote on issues that come before their board.
“Actually,” Bluestein emphasized in an emailed response to The Alamance News, “elected board members have no authority to recuse themselves and they have a duty to vote unless there is a basis for excusal.”
[Note: photo of Graham city council members Jennifer Talley and Melody Wiggins is from a meeting last March 2020.]
Read the newspaper’s editorial opinion on the controversy at this week’s meeting: https://alamancenews.com/graham-council-meeting-a-real-mess-that-needs-to-be-cleaned-up/