The Garland Board of Commissioners has a special session set for Tuesday, at which it is expected to discuss numerous topics and hold a section for public comment, the subject of discussion — and an address by the mayor — during this week’s board meeting.
Garland mayor Winifred Murphy gave a lengthy statement, in which she called out commissioners for their actions at a meeting in December and the closed session that followed, and said members of the public should be heard in an open, transparent government meeting.
Among the topics set to be discussed at this coming Tuesday’s special session, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be an audit presentation, records retention policies, zoning board appointments, Onslow Container Service commercial account rates, finances and building maintenance. Also slated to receive discussion are parliamentary procedure and the board’s public comment section.
Public comment section has to be held at least once a month, the mayor said, and there was not enough time for it at the regular meeting this past Tuesday. A Jan. 2 work session was canceled, leaving the board to hold discussion on a plethora of items on a long agenda this week. Toward the beginning of the regular meeting, Murphy read a 20-minute statement in which she noted the necessity of an open government, saying the actions of some commissioners gave a perception to the contrary.
The statements stem in large part from a public comment portion of the Dec. 11 meeting, at which one citizen had strong words for board members about the importance of their attendance at local functions.
Sylvia Carter, who runs a business in Garland, said four commissioners were “conspicuously” absent from a tree-lighting ceremony in early December.
“It is your responsibility as a town commissioner to be there. You represent the citizens and the merchants of the town of Garland. You are our voice, you lead by example,” Carter said at that meeting. “If you are not willing to go the extra mile for the people you represent in this town and give your 100 percent, then you should do the town a favor and seriously consider resigning your position on the board.”
Commissioner Denise Toler and Mike Toler took exception, specifically noting that Denise Toler had to work that day. They turned the tables on Carter, with Denise Toler saying Carter should have the facts before condemning someone, and Toler taking it even further, saying Carter was not even a resident in Garland.
Carter replied that she was a merchant and taxpayer in the town and had the right to express her opinion. “That is my right as a citizen and a taxpayer, and you or nobody else sitting here will take that voice from me.”
During the exchange, Murphy pounded the gavel and reminded commissioners it was a public comment portion. A closed session was held following that meeting, at which things came to a head about the comments earlier that night.
“Three of them attacked me in closed session in December and stormed out of the room,” Murphy said. “They felt I should’ve stopped Sylvia. Those were her words, not mine. I could not support what Michael and Denise were saying.”
Murphy said that Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith said the public comment should have been dealt with in closed session, because it was a personnel matter. However, the mayor and board members are not subject to that particular law because they are elected officials, not employees of the town, and are open to public comment — and may even be the subject of it.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board declined to hear a presentation from attorney Joel Starling on meeting protocol regarding open and closed sessions. “It’s a real sensitive situation,” said Murphy.
The board also voted for Smith to receive the Citizen of the Month Award, which Murphy said would have to be further discussed. The award was meant to recognize a member of the community, with board members not included as part of those considered. If Smith is to be a recipient, the board would have to amend its criteria in giving out the award, she said.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.