East Spencer aldermen approve scheduling public hearing for change in council-mayor governing operations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2022

EAST SPENCER — Town aldermen on Monday formally began the process of potentially changing East Spencer’s current council-mayor form of government to a model that puts more power into the hands of a manager.

Each municipality in North Carolina can decide to operate its governmental operations on one of two models, which is outlined in a municipal charter. In a council-manager form, the mayor and council establish the policies and hire a manager to implement those policies and hold statutory authority to hire and terminate employees. With this model, the mayor and council also hires the attorney and clerk directly.

By contrast, in a council-mayor form of government, the mayor and council collectively make decisions about services, revenues and expenditures. Additionally, all personnel fall within their purview.

Such a request was discussed at the March meeting. Town Administrator Michael Douglas, who was hired in June and currently works four days out of the week, said the benefit of a full-time manager is that someone is on-site at all times to manage the town’s business. He added it’s important to consider since the town is slated to receive $23 million from the state to aid the replacement of its water and sewer infrastructure and erase its debt.

Additionally, attorney Tom Brooke said recruiting an administrator for the town was challenging because the council-mayor format is less familiar for many candidates. He said Douglas’ contract includes some additional responsibilities that a manager would typically tackle, but a formal change in the town charter could make things clearer.

Monday’s action was the first step of the process. A public hearing is required within 45 days of that vote, followed by a final vote of approval that could be made in June.

Alderman John Noble was the only member who voted against beginning that process.

Also at the meeting, with increased development underway in the town, the board approved an ordinance that requires all new single-family residential construction to have a minimum of 1,100 square feet of living space. The ordinance states that a living or principal room, a combined kitchen and dining room and the first bedroom shall all be no less than 100 square feet, while all other bedrooms must be no less than 70 square feet. Additionally, efficiency apartments should be no less than 200 square feet.

The ordinance formally amends chapter 17, section 10 and subsection 3 of the town’s minimum housing code. It doesn’t apply to any ongoing or past construction, only future developments.

In other action at the meeting:

• Town officials approved a formal acceptance letter for its $23.3 million share from the state budget for water and sewer infrastructure repair. Such a letter is a formal step of accepting the terms of the funding, which is a full grant with no match required from the town. About $13.8 million of those funds will repair and rehabilitate the town’s sewer system, while the remaining $9.6 million will repair and rehabilitate the water system. Douglas said he’ll begin submitting request for proposals this week for the projects.

• The town voted to appoint alderman Albert Smith as the alternate member for the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization to fill the seat of the late alderman Tony Hillian. Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Rush was appointed to the Centralina Regional Council of Government as well.

• Douglas said he is applying for a Rural Transformation Incentive Grant from the state to purchase some properties that could then be developed into something else, including the former site of the Dunbar High School and Dunbar Center.

• Town officials also formally recognized that the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated exactly 54 years ago on April 4.

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About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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