GARLAND — Community members packed town hall Tuesday to voice their concerns about the police department and finances, while pleading for unity.
During a previous work session on Thursday, April 27, three commissioners walked out of the session after having a disagreement with Mayor Winifred Murphy over committee groups and talks in closed sessions. Afterward, she made several complaints about the service and financial needs of the police department.
At Tuesday’s meeting, several residents showed support for the Chief Ronald Matthews, while others were on the side of the mayor during the public comment portion of the meeting. Murphy felt the actions from the previous meetings were inappropriate.
“As far as me getting up and walking out of the meeting, I felt that it was the best thing for me to do under the circumstances,” Commissioner Ralph Smith said about leaving with Commissioner Lee Carberry and S.J. Smith. “The board had asked to be adjourned and it wasn’t seconded and you wouldn’t let us vote on it.”
While addressing the audience during her mid-year mayoral address, Murphy spoke about caring for Garland and the need to break her silence on matters, which brought negative attention to the town. But she hopes that comes with more input from residents.
“We’re just six people sitting at the table and the five commissioners make the decisions,” Murphy said. “I don’t get a vote. I can make recommendations, I can do research, but the votes are coming from these five individuals.”
Resident Sylvia Carter said she was tired of Garland being the “laughing stock” of Sampson County, because of reports of previous meetings in local newspapers. Carter praised the chief once again for apprehending a suspect, who broke into her home and caused $6,000 worth of damage to her home. She also opposed the mayor’s remarks about how she does not feel safe in Garland.
“It’s time the adults quit acting like immature people and stop all the innuendos,” Carter said. “Quit trying to plant fears in the minds of folks.”
Murphy made a complaint about Matthews not being present at the Easter Egg hunt, but Carter said he was investigating the incident at her home. But others felt that Matthews should have been present for an event that lasted several hours.
More controversy with the police department came when the department moved from town hall to the Garland Annex, next to Rotary Park. The Volunteers for the Town and Community of Garland, NC previously used the building for community meetings. It organizes events such as the Easter Egg hunt, a fall celebration and back-to-school event, with the sponsorship of Garland. Commissioner Ralph Smith and others such as Carter, believe the connection should be separate because of liability issues. Carter mentioned what-if matters such as something bad happening to a child, before mentioning a fight that occurred. Murphy added that there were no problems during the incident and was unaware of any fight.
“I guess if we’re ever to have that problem with kids being kidnapped, I guess our police chief could handle that problem,” Commissioner Austin Brown said, receiving claps from supporters of the organization.
A motorist in attendance received a speeding ticket from Matthews and said he wasn’t professional in his approach. She claims that she was not speeding and wanted to make a complaint with commissioners. Others questioned the amount of time he’s in town and if the service is feasible. According to estimates, the police department is costing the town about $120,000, an increase of about $7,000 from what the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office wanted to charge for services.
Along with Carter, there were people in the room who supported Matthews. One business owner said he patrols Garland frequently and said he’s scaring drunken drivers away. He also said the chief offers good advice for youths such as his son.
At the April 27 meeting, Murphy said she wanted to disband the police department. That suggestion was not made Tuesday night and it appears that more developments are coming.
“We have challenges with the Garland Police Department, but that was put into effect,” Murphy said during her public address. “So we need to work on that.”
A proclamation for auxiliary officers was unanimously approved later in the meeting. It was also mentioned that the North Carolina League of Municipalities is offering free assistance for law enforcement, if it’s willing to be accepted.
“I don’t know anything about establishing a police department and we made a lot of missteps there and commissioners know that has happened,” Murphy said. “We need to try to resolve these things and not continue to abuse taxpayers’ money.”
The meeting came with conflicts such as the back and forth between Murphy and Carberry over Facebook posts and road work. Carberry claimed that Murphy said he wasn’t doing job correctly on the social media platform and questioned his law enforcement credentials. He said several contractors refuse to work with Garland becuase they don’t want to deal with Mayor.
“We wanted quality work and that has not been done,” Murphy said about dealing with a specific contractor.
Several residents requested that commissioners, volunteers and residents to resolve their differences to make the town better. One of those residents was Sydney Boykin, who spoke about her life growing up in Garland and how the elected officials should put their personal issues to the side.
“How can greatness grow in Garland if no ever dares to be great?” Boykin said.
Jimmy Packard Jr., a local barber, echoed the same sentiments, while speaking about the division and commissioners working with the mayor.
“We all know a house divided can’t stand,” Parker said. “As commissioners, it’s your duty to work with the mayor. She has a vision for this town.”
Resident Jacqueline Johnson spoke about improving business in town and the closure of the Brooks Brothers outlet. She suggested that the commissioners and leaders should consider a fast food restaurant on Highway 701, since so many motorists come through Garland on their way to White Lake.
Comments regarding finances were also mentioned by residents and town members. According to early estimates, the town is facing a $25,000 shortfall because of matters regarding a contract with a business for public works. Some are concerned about the costs being pushed on residents.
A work session for the 2018-19 fiscal year budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at town hall, 190 S. Church Ave., Garland.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-592-8137. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.