It is high time that the city of Laurinburg take responsibility for a number of wrongs that have occurred over the past year or so.
Although these wrongs occurred either before I was elected or without my prior knowledge, as the highest elected official of the city of Laurinburg, I feel compelled to take responsibility, apologize and try to make amends. I want to be clear that I do not speak for city council, but I hope they will join me in acknowledging and righting these wrongs.
First, I would like to apologize to all county residents outside of the city. The delay in the construction of the fire substations is largely due to interference by the city of Laurinburg. Not only has Laurinburg interfered, but it has tried to get the county residents money for the city’s use.
To briefly summarize the fire substation debacle, the city inserted itself into this situation with a classic ‘bait and switch’. The city ‘baited’ the County Fire Association with an offer of some free land at the water tower in south Laurinburg to build their low-cost fire station. County residents had already paid the $110,000 from their fire tax to build it, for the purpose of lowering their homeowner’s premiums. The city then pulled a ‘switch’ on the county firefighters, saying that if the station were to be built on this ‘free’ city land, it would have to be bigger and to the city’s specifications (thicker concrete floor etc.) and therefore the cost would more than double. Over a year ago, the county firefighters asked the City to either stick with the original $110,000 barebones substation that would fulfill the County’s needs, or agree that the City would pay the extra money needed to meet the City’s wants. The City did neither.
Over a year ago, the county firefighters asked the city to either stick with the original $110,000 barebones substation that would fulfill the county’s needs, or agree that the city would pay the extra money needed to meet the city’s wants. The city did neither. Instead the city confused and delayed the situation, all the while trying to turn a county homeowner’s project that was taxed and paid for, into an opportunity to get a new city fire station.
This delay has cost county residents real money in their homeowner’s policies. Not only that, but these same county residents have seen their water rates spike up dramatically over the past two years. This has occurred because the city raised the cost of the water it sells the county by 35 percent in order to build up money to fund the new City Hall. So, I believe, the city owes the county residents a sincere apology for this double insult, essentially trying to get a new City Hall and a new city fire station paid for, in part, by county residents. It is not right.
Secondly, I would like to apologize to the citizens who came out the Public Input Session hoping to voice their opposition to what is widely acknowledged as the biggest issue in the city, namely the $10 million new city hall. Unbeknownst to me, city staff did not allow citizens to make comments against the new City Hall but instead, only allowed comments in favor of it. This is completely unacceptable behavior on the part of the city towards its citizens. Had I known this type of manipulation of the citizens’ input was occurring, I would have intervened. Now, all I can do is expose this behavior for what it is, the city’s corrupt propaganda machine in full swing.
Next, I would like to apologize to the three people who have lost their positions with the city just for voicing their opinion. Last spring it was the police chaplain. And now two part-time city firefighters were given the pink slip by the city. These are all upstanding citizens; a pastor, a police officer and a chief of a volunteer fire department. They were fired for speaking out, the pastor against the new City Hall and the firefighters against the city’s interference in building the county’s fire substations. It goes without saying that a government that fires good, dedicated employees or volunteers just for expressing their honest opinion is a government that is abusing its powers.
Lastly, I would like to apologize to the rank and file city employees. Being forced to work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation is unfair and unpleasant. Seeing fellow city employees being fired just for giving their opinion, respectfully and thoughtfully, creates a toxic and unhealthy environment in which no employee should have to work.
Apologies without amends are empty words. I will request of council to right these wrongs with an immediate 20 percent reduction in the water rate and to rehire the firefighters. Additionally, I am going to ask the city to see to an end to the culture of fear that now exists in City Hall.
As ‘uncivil’ as I may seem to some, while attempting to bring the city’s rotten core to light, I will continue to hold the city accountable to its citizens. As the saying goes, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant.’
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.