Robersonville – State Auditor Beth Wood stopped in during the regular scheduled January meeting of the town of Robersonville.
“I am done,” Wood told the town commissioners and predominately virtual audience. “I am ready to get my work finished.”
Her work has been to oversee pulling the town’s books together for the past three years to allow for audits to be done, which the town had failed to do. The work of Wood and her staff has cost the state nearly $90,000.
Wood also expressed her concern regarding what she called some town employee’s failure to follow the governor’s mandate regarding masks.
She acknowledged Local Government Commission staff had stopped coming to the town office because “these people just won’t go by the rules,” referring to CDC guidelines and the mandate of Gov. Roy Cooper regarding wearing of masks when individuals can not social distance.
Wood called the behavior of those who refused to wear a mask sitting across a desk from others “rebellious and ludicrous,” explaining she would consider discussing Robersonville ¬– in relation to COVID safety and the following of mandates – with the governor if things did not change.
Another concern for Wood, as explained during the meeting, is the fact her team is unable to receive the information they need to complete their work.
Wood explained she could not decide whether the refusal to provide the requested information on the part of town employees was rebellion or an inability to do their job.
Deborah Armstrong, a member of the town council, explained to Wood she is not receiving any information explaining the auditor’s office is not getting what they need.
Wood reminded the council that the town manager works for the council.
“That’s the town manager’s job,” Wood replied. “To keep you aware. That’s why Sharon (Edmundson) and I are here tonight.”
“We don’t want to run local government,” said Edmundson, secretary of the Local Government Commission. “Only as a last resort.”
Edmundson is also deputy treasurer for the state and local government finance division of the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer
She explained the decision to take over a town’s finances is never made lightly and requires a great deal of forethought.
“The Commission (LGC) has had this authority in statute since the 1930’s but has only exercised it 10 times and all since 1997,” Edmundson said.
Three of the ten incidents ocurred in the last 18 months.
“Time and again we have faced resistance and lack of cooperation from some members of the staff in getting essential tasks done in a timely manner,” she told the audience.
“It’s clear that no one on the current staff has the ability, and I am not sure they have the interest in learning how the finance function is supposed to work in local government,” said Edmundson.
Because of this, Edmundson said Wood’s office has hired a firm to do the town’s bookkeeping for the next six months at a cost of approximately $48,000.
During public comment, lifelong resident Emily Keel called the reported lack of mask-wearing in town employee settings a “failure of town management to protect the safety of employees and consultants.”
Keel went on to say she was “deeply embarrassed by this failure.”
“To the town council members I say, I do not think this is a 30-minute-a-month job you have signed up for,” she added.
Resident Hope McNeil, who previously worked in the building, which is now home to the town office, spoke to the opposite of the mask issue that Keel took.
“Now they’re putting lives at risk,” McNeil read from a quote by Wood in previous meeting. “Who came up with that?” she asked.
McNeil explained how in March, plexiglass was put up in town office, where customers would come, just like in grocery stores. McNeil said the doors to the town office were closed to the public, only allowing some in ¬– but they had to have on a mask.
She also described the distance between offices within the town office.
“It’s a shame you are trying to tear down the town of Robersonville by telling lies,” McNeil said.
The Enterprise reached out to town officials, including the mayor, town administrator and council for any response to the state’s reports of town employees refusing to wear masks. No one responded.