Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Mebane’s backroom dealing both illegal and unnecessary

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We continue to shake our head in disbelief at the lengths some public officials will go to conceal information from the public they supposedly serve.

On Monday night, Mebane mayor Ed Hooks took the unprecedented  step during a public meeting (while conducting a public hearing, no less) to halt a long procession of public speakers on a proposed rezoning and annexation of 84 acres along Buckhorn Road – while the public comment period was in progress – so that he and other city officials could meet with the attorneys for the developer and seller, ostensibly to work out a possible solution to delay the eviction of vendors at the Buckhorn flea market. (There were two public hearings on side-by-side projects, totaling 134 acres.)

We are especially disappointed with Hooks, who apparently masterminded this shady debacle.  As well as councilman Tim Bradley, and the city’s manager and attorney, Chris Rollins and Lawson Brown, other city representatives who participated in this backroom shindig.

Hooks could have taken a break and suggested that the two sides go off to see if they could work out a compromise of some sort.

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Instead, by involving himself and other city officials in the closed-door huddle, he crossed the line into both blatant illegality and bad, bad judgment.

It might have been a worthy objective to resolve the seeming impasse over the timeframe for removing the current flea market and beginning construction on the new project, but it could just as easily – and much more  legally – been done in an open session.

Instead, by secretly huddling for a half-hour with all the main players – buyer and seller and their attorneys – the backroom conclave with city officials raises inevitable suspicions about what, if any, special deals, promises, or future considerations were made behind closed doors.

And if none were, as they all will surely claim, why not just discuss it in the open?

Also of concern, during the closed-door confab, city manager Rollins was apparently dispatched back to the meeting room, where it appeared  as though he was tasked to ask each of the four remaining council members about their position on the underlying rezoning – and perhaps whether the additional month delay in closing down the flea market would affect their vote.

That’s another significant violation of the Open Meetings Law.

We have no particular view on the merits of the underlying project, nor how long the transition from the flea market should take, but we firmly believe it should be considered, discussed, and voted on only in public.

This wasn’t just some unethical side meeting with the key players – or even some secret gathering of a cabal before the meeting.

Instead, while nearly two hundred or more people waited in the council chambers and an overflow room, secret discussions were being held that affected city policy, which is supposed to be the people’s business, while the people of Mebane were made to wait for the outcome.

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