Let’s start this article off by stating that, according to North Carolina State Law, government agencies (of which the Cleveland County Commissioners are included) must do their business in open meetings, except for very limited circumstances that do not apply to this article. Official minutes are kept as required by law to indicate what transpired in these meetings. Any email communications between commissioners and anybody else are also records that the law requires to be kept for the record. As are any other supporting documents, notes, scribbled messages and so forth.
All of this must be kept and provided to members of the public for inspection and copy if and when requested according to the Federal Freedom of Information Act as well as North Carolina Public Records Laws. These government agencies are required to provide this information as soon as possible and at little to no cost to the public. The Public Records Law record inspection requests may be made in several ways according to the North Carolina Attorney General. The request for information may be written and it may even be made simply by verbally asking for the information.
Now, let’s go to the Commissioner’s Meeting held on June 21, 2016 in which the legally required Public Hearing was held before the 2016-2017 Budget was approved by the commissioners with great fanfare and thanks to those who worked on the budget for a job well done.
There was only one speaker at the Public Hearing and that speaker was me, Robert A. Williams. I had reviewed the budget draft at the Spangler Library in Lawndale and had come up with many questions, all of which will be described in another article, except for this one particular item. Right on the very first page was an entry in the new budget that listed a loan partial repayment by Destination Cleveland County-Earl Scruggs Center as a REVENUE.
(For your information and a reminder, several years ago the DCC came to the commissioners asking for a large sum of money so they could open the Earl Scruggs Center before a deadline expired for a $1.5 million government grant they had already been awarded-and spent. DCC said they had donation pledges totaling $780,000 that had not been collected yet, but they were sure the pledges would be honored-and paid. I was at that commissioner’s meeting and heard it all. My thought was why don’t they just collect the money from those who promised to pay? My other thought was, why would those who made the promises throw good money after bad as it was becoming very obvious as a fact of life that the Scruggs Center would never pay for itself-much less bring in the $220 million in economic development that had been forecast by the Business School at Gardner Webb. Anyway, the commissioners voted to give DCC a $780,000 loan, at no interest and with the pledges as collateral to guarantee the taxpayers money would be paid back in yearly installments until the year 2020. The loan payment I am talking about was in regard to this particular no interest loan.)