Spencer votes to cease Small Town Main Street committees

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SPENCER — In a split vote, Spencer aldermen agreed to suspend the Small Town Main Street committees for six months.
“To cease all committee work is pretty much a slap in the face to the people on the committees who spent their time and effort for over a year,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel, who voted no.
Alderman Reid Walters also voted no, saying he had “major concerns” with the way people learned about problems with the Small Town Main Street program.
“People who have been at every meeting finding out via the newspaper is not the best method,” Walters said.
Walters also said he did not agree with parts of memos from Sherry Adams, the Small Town Main Street state coordinator, and Town Manager Larry Smith. Adams recommended the Small Town Main Street committees cease meeting.
Spencer is in the midst of the two-year, state-sponsored effort to create a long-term economic revitalization strategy and an organization to promote the town and host events. A handful of towns are chosen by the N.C. Department of Commerce each year to participate.
Small Town Main Street will continue to move forward, Alderman Jeff Morris said.
“This is not going to end the program,” Morris said.
But Bob Oswald, volunteer chairman of the Small Town Main Street promotions committee, was incensed.
“Shame on you, shame on you board,” Oswald said after rushing to the microphone.
Although aldermen talk about the need for more communication, they took action on Adams’ recommendation without hearing from people with information, Oswald said. He called the board’s decision “arbitrary and capricious” and said those who voted yes — Morris, Kevin Jones, Scott Benfield and Mike Boone — have had “very little to do with Small Town Main Street.”
Oswald said two of the groups chosen by Adams to take over committee work are not functioning well. The town’s Historic Preservation Commission has vacancies, and the Spencer Business Association has not met for years, he said.
Under Adams’ recommendation, a new organizational committee will work with town staff on Small Town Main Street for the next six months. The committee will include representatives from the Historic Preservation Commission, Spencer Business Association, Rowan County Tourism, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Commission and N.C. Transportation Museum.
“We are being fired and being replaced by someone else to take over,” Gobbel said.
Morris said the committee meetings will be public, and anyone who wants to follow the progress can attend.
In her memo, Adams said she was “somewhat troubled” to recommend collapsing the full Small Town Main Street program into one smaller committee but that too many “silos” still exist in the town.
Spencer failed to win a Small Town Main Street spot in 2009 because people were not willing to work together.
When the town reapplied for the program in 2011, Adams said she thought the “silos had come down and that the community was willing to partner and work together to create a more sustainable downtown program.”
Adams said she was wrong.
The breaking point apparently was a 5K run that Oswald’s promotion committee was planning for March. Oswald wanted town hall to staff the event and handle the financial accounting, according to Smith, the town manager.
But Spencer needs a nonprofit organization, not the town itself, to handle events like a 5K, Smith said. By running money from an event through town hall, “We expose ourselves and the town to very real image and liability concerns,” Smith said.
Adams also said the 5K should not occur.
“There are too many folks focused on various ‘tasks’ but not focusing on the long-term success and sustainability of the Small Town Main Street program,” she said.
Smith said he hopes Kristen Trexler of Rowan tourism and Jessica Gaskill of the EDC will lead the new organizational committee, which will review the vision statement, create a mission statement and create steps to implement a work plan. The entire Small Town Main Street group is scheduled to meet June 12.
“That could come earlier if things come together,” Smith said.
Gobbel said three of the four committees were working well, and there was no warning that the “ship is sinking.”
Walters said someone should have called a meeting to discuss the problems.
Mayor Jody Everhart supported the change, saying the town needs a good foundation and more communication from the Small Town Main Street effort.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.