Landis manager addresses possible utility rates, embezzlement connection

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019

LANDIS — Interim Town Manager Kenny Isenhour offered some insight about the recently published utility rates at a town board meeting Monday night.

With two former town officials being investigated for possible embezzlement, Landis residents questioned whether their high utility bills are connected. Many have complained for years about high electricity and water and sewer bills with little relief or explanation.

Former Town Manager Reed Linn and Finance Officer Ginger Gibson are the subjects of a State Bureau of Investigation probe into embezzlement allegations.

Isenhour said the utility rates is one thing the SBI is looking at.

“It’s going to take them time to go through this,” Isenhour said. “The direct question about the relationship between the embezzlement and those various funds is going to be some months till they’re done with that part. I don’t want to rush things, and I don’t think you want to rush things, because I want them to do a good, thorough job in everything that they look at.”

Isenhour said some of the high rates are due to a 1978 investment in a nuclear reactor with Electricities. Landis currently has a debt of $10 million. He also added the town gets sewer service from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, and it is costly to pump the sewer as the town’s infrastructure ages.

Dennis Isenhour brought his utility bill to the board to question credit card charges. Alby Stamey also asked the board and town officials if they could post the Electricities bill, which would show the kilowatts used and the money owed.

Interim Finance Officer Roger Hosey said the town will post the information later this week on its website under the transparency tab.

Isenhour also gave some updates about the investigation as a whole, saying the SBI is continuing to look at Linn, Gibson and an unnamed third person.

“I know people want to know about the third unnamed person,” Isenhour said. “My comment to that is there may be four or five before this is over with. Right now, we are only looking at those two plus a third unnamed person we can’t talk about.”

Residents continued to demand answers about the lack of oversight on the town’s finances.

After asking about information regarding a civil lawsuit filed by the town last month, Katie Sells told Mayor Mike Mahaley he is unfit to serve the town.

“Mike, I’ve sat in this audience for several months and watched you try and conduct these meetings,” Sells said. “I’ve told you, ‘Tell Tommy and Bobby both that you need help conducting the meetings, and you have an agenda in front of you.’ You’re unorganized, and during the meetings sometimes you look confused or dazed. And you only say anything to criticize someone or to lecture the citizens. Tonight, I’m asking you to step down as mayor because the citizens of Landis deserve the best.”

Meredith Smith said residents deserve an apology from officials for ignoring their concerns and backing Linn at a Feb. 7 meeting when it was announced he would be retiring as town manager.

Days later, Linn resigned when the investigation was announced.

Mahaley responded with a five-minute speech about the investigation and the trust he had in Linn as town manager.

“It was a matter of trust,” Mahaley said. “I trusted Reed Linn. I did. I sat up here and bragged on him and everyone that worked for him bragged on him. And I still brag on him. I don’t brag on him because he embezzled money from the town of Landis. I’m so disappointed. I don’t know what else to say.”

Smith said Landis residents are ready for change.

“There’s going to be an election,” Smith said. “Three of you are going off and two are staying on, and I’m telling you this town wants change and we need it bad.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tommy Garver told residents to continue to be patient as the town goes through the investigation.

“If you could be in some of the meetings we’ve had to be in and know some of the things we know and we can’t speak out about, it is really frustrating, especially when you see folks coming along poking holes in our boat,” Garver said. “We’re doing our best, and you’re going to see a great place to live in about two years from now, so be patient.”

In other business:

• The board scheduled a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. April 11 to consider increasing the East Landis Fire District tax to 8 cents. Hosey said the tax would only affect property owners in the East Landis Fire District, which is outside town limits.

• The board approved the concept plan for Passive Park, which was donated to the town.

• Assistant Town Manager Brandon Linn informed the board that the town was awarded an N.C. Department of Environmental Quality grant for sewer improvements.