The mayor and a councilman offered apologies and a handshake the day after a discussion between the city leaders became contentious.
At the start of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Tommy Parker and Councilman Kenton Spencer said that they were sorry for their behavior the previous night.
The men had clashed over how money was spent on two city programs.
Spencer, who delivered the meeting’s invocation, said that he hoped the meeting would proceed in the spirit of the New Testament rather than the old.
“Let’s not smite each other,” Spencer said.
Parker also tried to mend the relationship by saying that he had not meant to impugn Spencer’s integrity and offered him a public apology.
The public argument came Monday night after Councilwoman Mary Jo Adams requested a breakdown of expenses for the Farmers Market and the Laurinburg Youth Council, both overseen by Councilman Kenton Spencer.
Parker responded at that meeting by mentioning a prior conversation he had with Spencer.
“That’s what Kenton and I had our discussion about earlier,” Parker said Monday. “I told him I thought that was going to be questioned.”
“What is the money used for?” Adams asked Spencer, who helped establish the Laurinburg Youth Council and the Laurinburg Farmers Market. “Do we have a market manager?”
“You’re looking at him,” Spencer told Adams.
“Is it still active? What do they spend the money for?” Adams said.
“Yes, it is still active,” Spencer said. “I just think it’s interesting that we have questions like this about the two projects that I am involved in.”
Parker suggested that Spencer’s solitary oversight of the two projects could have appearance of impropriety to some.
“When you do something under the auspices of city council, spending tax payers’ money, I think you need a city staff person involved,” Parker said. “That’s all I’m going to say with the youth council. You need people on the staff level that help you. It insulates you some. You don’t need to be a lightning rod.”
Parker said that others on council had similar concerns.
“Whether anybody steps up and says it or not, I’m going to tell you I get a lot of complaints about the procedure those committees are run under,” the mayor said. “That’s all I will say.”
Parker said he tried to share that with Spencer in an earlier conversation Monday, but that Spencer had “lost his temper and used some profanity and slander.”
Spencer asked Parker whether “he want(ed) to bring this up.”
“I will also put on the record that I will not tolerate any type of bullying. If you want to talk about slander, bring it up and put it on the record and make it transparent,” Spencer said. “What is the issue?”
Spencer then asked why no one other than the mayor has expressed concern about his work with the two programs.
“That tells me that either you’re going to be pushing your own personal, private agenda or —.”
“I can promise you that is not the case,” Parker said.
“Oh, is that right?” Spencer said sarcastically.
“As mayor, I listen to all of my council members. And when someone shares with me that they have a concern, I share it with the person involved. OK? That’s only being fair, Kenton,” Parker said. “You’re not going to bully me either, OK?”
Councilman Herbert Rainer tried to defuse the situation by asking the city finance officer if there were any concerns with the two programs. Council members were told that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in either program.
Rainer then praised Spencer’s work with the youth council, calling it “something that we had to have.”
“We can’t do enough for the young people in Laurinburg,” said Rainer.
Rainer also lauded the downtown farmers market overseen by Spencer.
“There are people downtown always crying about not enough people going downtown. Now they’re all coming down town for the farmers market. You can’t please some people no matter what you do,” said Rainer.
Spencer responded to Rainer by criticizing Laurinburg’s political structure.
“I just find it so amazing that when you try to do something positive, someone is always complaining, and throwing stones,” said Spencer. “You would think that they would be open and say ‘Hey, these are the concerns, what can we do to make it better, let me help make it better,’ instead of trying to hang someone out to dry.”
Spencer called the situation “a sorry state of affairs.”
“I can see why so many people are burnt out about even trying to put themselves out there. You know? Because sometimes you’re just trying to pull teeth to make things better, and you find out that no, the good ol’ boy system is still alive, and it’s all about a club.”
Rainer then concluded the exchange between Spencer and Parker — and the meeting — by comparing Spencer to the President of the United States.
“You know what?” said Rainer to Spencer. “We’ll change your name to Obama, because he can’t do nothing right no matter what he does. He tried to give people free health care and they don’t like him because he was giving them free health care. I can feel your frustration.”