November 18, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — When a child behaves badly, they are rarely, if ever, “punished” by receiving a candy bar.
But, figuratively speaking, Blowing Rock News learned recently that is exactly what may be happening among Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners — and to the Town’s ultimate embarrassment.
We must first point out that what we are about to write is based on hearsay, but still they are reports from sources we believe to be reliable and truthful.
Separately from two local residents, including one who is a member of the Blowing Rock Civic Association, we learned last week that Commissioner Sue Sweeting is negotiating behind the scenes to be named Mayor Pro-Tem by a majority of her colleagues on the Board. If this comes to pass, it will not only be dirty politics but even greater evidence of the dysfunction that has become Blowing Rock’s elected town government.
Playing backroom politics and using an important governmental title and role as pawns in advancing a personal agenda is out of line.
The fact that Commissioner Albert Yount served in the Mayor Pro-Tem role for the last few elected boards does not — and should not — guarantee him re-election to the position. Nothing against Yount, but that’s why there is an internal vote as to who will fill that role every time the Board’s composition changes with a new municipal election.
Our concerns with this writing, though, do not concern Commissioner Yount. Rather, our concerns are about “rewarding” Sweeting after her documented malfeasance last year when she baldly and arrogantly violated state laws limiting ex parte communications between board members and outside parties in a quasi-judicial municipal proceeding.
That is not trivial. Had the rest of the board members not done the right thing and forced her involuntary recusal (when she refused to voluntarily recuse herself) from the Rainey Lodge CUP hearings, her actions rendered the town vulnerable to a potential lawsuit that might have cost Blowing Rock and its taxpayers dearly. Is it in Blowing Rock taxpayers’ best interest for the Town to pay a settlement or jury award — potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — just because one of their elected Board members acted irresponsibly?
Previous articles and editorials that touch on Sweeting’s malfeasance in the Rainey Lodge hearings:
Fast forward a few months and now Sweeting appears to be trying to repair her tarnished public image by manipulating the same group that held her accountable for her misdeeds — to polish it up for her by electing her Mayor Pro-Tem, as if the other stuff never happened.
Is This Important?
Mayor Pro-Tem is largely a ceremonial title, but from time to time the person in that position is called upon to fill in when the Mayor is unavailable, for whatever reason, including as the presiding officer of Town Council meetings.
Should Sweeting’s disruptive behavior while in office, much less her documented malfeasance be rewarded with the equivalent of a Board-issued candy bar?
Sweeting’s alleged attempt to be honored with the title is not just disruptive, but her reported backroom politics to manipulate a vote or two in her favor only serves to belittle the importance of the Mayor Pro Tem role, using it as a pawn to advance her own personal agenda.
Does Sweeting really need to be rewarded? We have seen her disruptive, micro-managing style repeatedly during her tenure on the Board, from the Blowing Rock Medical building renovation to the Appalachian Ski Mountain Visitor Center signage, to the Rainey Lodge proposed development and much, much more.
Most recently, she attempted to railroad the Chamber of Commerce Winterfest events and tried to throw a monkey wrench in the Headwaters project not for any good reason, but apparently just because she could — or because she doesn’t trust the Town staff professionals to do the jobs for which they have been trained and hired.
It was the height of arrogance for Sweeting to thumb her nose at those instructions and warnings…
In short, Sweeting continues to attempt usurping what is clearly the responsibilities of the Town Manager and his staff, and this is particularly the case in issues related to economic development. Since, as a practicing nurse, she has never made payroll as a business owner her naivete and lack of knowledge about how marketplace economics work is understandable. But her actions throughout her term in office have been sub-optimal for the future of Blowing Rock and must be demoralizing for town staff, even if they might be unwilling to publicly say so.
Sweeting’s control-taking and micromanaging style – even beyond her violating state law while serving — is not and should not be an admired trait for Town Commissioners. Moreover, when this bad behavior is practiced it should not be rewarded with the symbolic equivalent of a candy bar from a majority of her colleagues (including her own vote).
Sweeting has a right to run for another, future elected office. We would hope that public SERVICE was more her motivation than personal agenda and ego. Sweeting also has a right to err in judgment and learn from her mistakes in her current office.
But playing dirty backroom politics, allegedly — “I’ll deliver votes for you later on if you vote for me now as Mayor Pro-Tem” — with an important ceremonial role of our town’s representative government is out of line. Worse still, it would reward an individual who, in our estimation, has proven herself unworthy of even serving on the Board of Commissioners.
There is no impeachment or recall process in Blowing Rock’s town code, so the Town appears stuck with Sweeting for another two years, at least, unless she were to voluntarily resign. But that doesn’t mean she should be rewarded for clearly bad behavior – especially since, in the case of the ex parte communications violation of state law, every commissioner individually received clear instructions and warnings as to what they could and could not do from then Interim Town Manager, Jim Freeman, and then collectively from Town Attorney Allen Moseley. It was the height of arrogance for Sweeting to thumb her nose at those instructions and warnings, as if to say, “I am above the law. I am above those statutory processes and limitations.”
If a majority of the collective board does not want to re-elect Commissioner Yount to the Mayor Pro-Tem position, or if he doesn’t want to continue in that role, then our choice would be newcomer David Harwood who, we predict, will become the most thoughtful and effective Commissioner since Keith Tester more than a decade ago.
For her colleagues to reward Sweeting with the Mayor Pro-Tem position would be the height of irresponsible representative government.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If any of the commissioners or any other Blowing Rock resident or constituent interest wishes to pen a Letter to the Editor that either reinforces these views or defends Sweeting and/or the Board, we will gladly publish it. Please include your (real) name and contact information in the event we have questionS to clarify your views. We reserve the right to respond to any supportive or critical viewpoints.