Inability to hold meeting frustrates council members

Jul. 02, 2013 @ 07:35 PM

A specially called meeting of Trinity City Council set for June 28 did not make a quorum to pass an amendment to last year’s budget. A meeting Trinity Mayor Carlton Boyles attempted to call for today was cancelled Tuesday afternoon when he realized the city would, once again, not have a quorum.
“You cannot have a meeting without a quorum, a majority of members present,” Boyles said. “After talking to people, I realized we couldn’t get enough people there for the meeting.”
To make the city’s budget balance by July 1, money needed to be moved from the general fund. A series of budget amendments, if passed, would have made this possible, Boyles said.
According to Councilwoman Kristen Varner, City Manager and Finance Director Debbie Hinson came in to work to write the amendments on the day her father died. She had been out during the previous week to spend time with him while he was in hospice care.
Council members Varner, Tommy Johnson and Barry Lambeth, as well as Boyles, showed up for the June 28 meeting.
Council members Chester Ayers and Karen Bridges said they had previous commitments when first informed of the meeting.
Debbie Frazier and Linda Gantt called the day of the meeting and told city staff they would not attend.
Boyles said he visited Councilman Ed Lohr at home to remind him of the meeting and offer transportation.
“I told his wife I was there to give Ed a ride to the meeting if he needed one,” Boyles recalled. “She said she’d go check with him. I waited 10 minutes and knocked again, and no one answered, and again 5 minutes later, and still no response.”
Some Council members were asked to participate by speaker phone — conference style, with everything recorded — but refused to do so.
Frazier and Lambeth did not return phone calls Monday and Tuesday seeking comment for this story. Several calls to Lohr’s telephone number on those days resulted in a busy signal.
The funeral for Hinson’s father was Monday. She was out on bereavement leave and unable to be reached for comment.
Some Council members said they worry what having an unbalanced budget could mean for the city.
“Technically, if they so chose, the state could take over the city’s finances,” Varner said.
Because the amendments were not passed, the city ended the year with an unbalanced budget, which could prompt an examination by the Local Government Commission. The commission oversees municipal and county government finances.
“My biggest concern is for our city manager,” Johnson said. “She has become very discouraged over the past year, and if she quits, we lose not only our manager, but our finance director.”
Varner and Johnson were disturbed by the lack of a quorum and what it means for the city — both in terms of having an unbalanced budget and having leaders who will not work together.
“I cannot figure out what good this did,” Varner said. “This jeopardizes our ability to get grants [in the future], because who’s going to give us grants if we can’t handle our finances?
“I don’t understand their problem,” she added. “Why wouldn’t they be there for a quorum? I’m disgusted that I witnessed City Council members verbally refuse to participate in a meeting to balance our budget by the deadline.”
Johnson said he was concerned that his colleagues could not come together “in a timely manner” to handle city business.
“I attended the meeting for our accounting, I was there to do the city’s business so our end-of-year accounts would be right,” Johnson said. “It shows a total disrespect for the concerns of the city,” he added.
Boyles agreed.
“It’s a negative thing for the city,” Boyles said. “It’s unprofessional. I have no problem with differing views, but we should be able to come together and have a dialogue.”
Ayers said he was unable to attend the meeting because he was working. When asked if he was concerned about the city’s budget being unbalanced at year’s end, he said he was not prepared to answer the question and so had no comment.
Bridges explained that the notice given for the meeting was too short, given that the agency she works for also was facing the end of its fiscal year, and she had meetings already scheduled.
“It was very unclear to me if [amendments were] necessary to balance the budget,” Bridges said. “I hadn’t even gotten my copy of the explanation. I really wanted to hear it from Debbie [Hinson]. This hasn’t really been discussed with us … I want to know more before I vote on it.”
Gantt said she was out of town the day of the meeting, and agreed with Bridges that more information was needed.
“I’m concerned, but we’ll have to wait until Debbie [Hinson] gets back so she can explain all this,” Gantt said.
She also said council members were given too little notice with regards to the meeting.
“They didn’t call us until Wednesday, I guess people already had plans,” she added. (The meeting was scheduled for Friday.)
Some Trinity residents want answers.
“These are the citizens we elected, that we put our faith in to run our city properly,” said Trinity resident and community volunteer Deborah Smith. “For them to do something like this is not only neglectful, it’s a travesty.”
“It’s weak leadership, it’s incompetence,” said Chris McGee, a Trinity resident and High Point firefighter. “It’s my understanding that, by July 1, you have to have a balanced budget. You had a responsible mayor call a meeting, three responsible City Council members to show up and five who did not.
“That’s self-serving, weak leadership, not showing up,” he continued. “We need to begin replacing them next election with people who will show real leadership and dedication to this city.”