Questions remain about Pinehurst council members actions

Update/August 2023: In 2022, Kevin Drum and N.C. Citizens for Transparent Government, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the Village of Pinehurst for allegedly violating N.C.’s open meeting laws which was struck down in Moore County Superior Court. The case was successfully appealed in 2023 and is now going to superior court for a ruling.

“The North Carolina Citizens for Transparent Government, which I founded, has won in the Court of Appeals,” wrote Kevin Drum, founder of North Carolina Citizens for Transparent Government, in an email to Sandhills Sentinel. “I am grateful for Duke Law School and Students support of the organization I founded and their work fighting for Transparency.” 

Questions about open meeting laws and whether perceived ethics violations against Pinehurst Council members Lydia Boesch and Kevin Drum should even be discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting continued a discussion from the previous meeting about their conduct and the council’s response.

At the Oct.12 council meeting, Boesch was accused of recently meeting with Pinehurst Police Chief Glen Webb and is alleged to have inappropriately spoken about Pinehurst Town Manager Jeff Sanborn’s job performance and the working environment at Town Hall. This made Webb uncomfortable, and he reported it to Sanborn and Human Resources Director Angie Kantor. You can read their statements and other evidence here.

Sandhills Sentinel reached out to Boesch Wednesday morning. She expressed how sorry she was for causing Jeff Sanborn any discomfort or pain.

A letter was posted on the Town of Pinehurst’s website detailing her role in the alleged violation. That letter was initially presented at a close door council meeting.

When asked why the document was made public, Sanborn stated in an email to Sandhills Sentinel, “Mayor Strickland asked me to add it to the agenda packet and gave me a copy for that purpose. There is nothing inherently protected about a document simply because it had previously been used in a closed session discussion.”

Drum, who is also an owner of a Pinehurst restaurant, got into a heated email exchange with Katrin Franklin, president of Pinehurst Business Partners, concerning a meet and greet sponsored by the organization for Patrick Pizzella. He is running against Drum and two other candidates in November for a spot on the city council.

The email exchange got more heated, with Drum calling for Franklin’s resignation and asking why a marketing organization was sponsoring political meetings. The emails grew more and more hostile, with Drum calling Franklin, among other things, clueless and hateful. You can read the email exchange and supporting documents here.

Drum expressed confusion about how he is supposed to conduct himself as a member of the council and a small-business owner of Drum & Quill Tavern. His conduct is being questioned regarding his personal conduct, not town business. He added that evidently, you have to be a councilman 24 hours a day, and only retired people will be able to run due to the conflict of business and politics. He feels his freedom of speech is being curtailed, and the board is becoming politicalized.

When Mayor John Strickland asked if Boesch had a statement, she expressed shock and dismay that the item was being discussed.

“I feel unprepared to make a statement when I was assured by my attorney this item was removed from the agenda,” she stated.

Boesch’s attorney, Philip Isley, from Raleigh, spoke to the council via a phone call. He stated that Pinehurst Village Attorney Mike Newman had assured him that the item would be pulled from the agenda. Newman confirmed that he did speak with Isley and told him the “council would discuss that matter, but no formal action would be taken.” Isley went on to say to the council that they have submitted a public records request, and there was a real possibility of litigation if the council took action. You can watch that portion of the video here.

Both Isley and Drum accused the council of breaking open meeting laws. Strickland replied that no action would be taken Tuesday, but the item would be discussed.

In North Carolina, meetings of local government boards must be open to the public and advertised in advance. Additionally, minutes of the meeting and agenda items must be made available to the public. The central thrust of the open meeting allegations is that three board members met together to discuss a resolution against Boesch, which constitutes a quorum.

North Carolina describes an official meeting as “a meeting, assembly, or gathering together at any time or place or the simultaneous communication by conference telephone or other electronic means of a majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, of the public body.” G.S. § 143-318.10(d).”

When questioned by Sandhills Sentinel in a phone call, Drum refused to state that what happened was a violation of open meeting laws, but “it violated the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law.” 

When asked at the meeting if Boesch would acknowledge that mistakes were made, she responded that she would be a fool to admit to that. 

Drum also admitted to being taken by surprise. Drum stated he lives by his own code of ethics, and he was trained in the wrong code of ethics. Pinehurst sends council members to the UNC School of Government for training and refresher courses on good government.

According to Drum, the training they receive is not in the ethics that the town requires. He suggested revising the training methods to reflect the traditions and policies of Pinehurst. Again, when asked if he acknowledged he had made mistakes, he demurred but stated, “I can do better. We can do better.”

Strickland read a statement at the meeting that said the “council strongly disapproves of the council members actions and that the ethics violations are substantiated.”

It is unclear what future action the council will take at the next town meeting.

To view the Oct. 12 and 26 council meetings in their entirety, please click here.

Feature photo: Pinehurst Town Council members; Kevin Drum (left), Lydia Boesch, Mayor John Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Judy Davis, and Jane Hogeman. Photo via Village of Pinehurst.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Chris Prentice.

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