On Thursday, March 16, a notice was sent out that Mayor Bernhard called a special meeting of the Whispering Pines Village Council. The purpose of the meeting was for the council to discuss the harassment of village staff regarding the enforcement of village ordinances, with a resolution proposed to encourage civil and professional treatment of all who work and reside within the village.
The meeting, held on March 23, was deemed necessary following aggressive harassment and complaints about the enforcement of village ordinances. Council staff was facing harassment not just through online forums but through in-person encounters and threatening phone calls. The council said the most common cause for recent aggression related to changes in ordinances regarding screening and obscuring trash cans.
Council member Andy Conway recounted threatening voice mails stating, “Sadly, some of the things that were left on voicemail, we cannot repeat. They were forwarded to everyone in council, and they were really, really bad.” Though no charges are being pressed at this time, the council felt the need to take action regarding not just this series of threats but recent prior incidents of staff harassment.
“The Whispering Pines Council sets policy, and Whispering Pines staff executes and enforces — they don’t come up with the policy,” said Mayor Bernhard. “Whispering Pines Council creates, amends, and repeals village ordinances. Whispering Pines staff enforces said ordinances. They don’t interpret it, and they don’t come up with it. They’re just doing what their job is, period, and for anybody to take it out on staff is inappropriate. It cannot be condoned as far as I’m concerned, nor tolerated.”
Mayor Bernhard openly encouraged village residents who may have complaints, grievances, or wish to have their opinion heard to attend council meetings. The council provides “ample opportunity” by meeting twice monthly, allowing residents to attend meetings, write in concerns, and watch livestreamed meetings to keep up-to-date. Residents may also write to the council and request topics be added to upcoming meetings and addressed.
“The resolution I put together is to promote and encourage civil and professional treatment among all in Whispering Pines,” council member Linda Vandercook read from the proposed resolution. “Whereas Whispering Pines expects civil and professional treatment of its staff, council members, residents, and visitors, and whereas Whispering Pines will insist that all of staff feel safe when conducting their assigned duties.”
The resolution further asserted that Whispering Pines is a community supported by trained, experienced, and professional staff, who execute and enforce community policies.
Though the council was in agreement that everything stated within the resolution was true, it was argued whether the resolution was, in fact, necessary. Points were made that residents’ complaints may be valid and that a resident making a good point cannot always be misconstrued as argumentative or disrespectful.
For this particular meeting, residents took to the podium and wrote in comments to have their voices heard. Most who stood up to speak acknowledged and agreed that though complaints may be valid depending on point of view, harassment of village staff is unacceptable. One resident who spoke at the podium expressed his gratitude for the staff’s efforts to keep the community beautiful, and he personally brought issues to the council before and was pleased with the results of clear communication.
Conversely, another resident claimed regulations have “increased” since he moved to Whispering Pines and asserted his belief that the staff uses “selective enforcement.” This resident, along with others, also implied staff is often too quick to issue citations about trailers, which is described in village ordinances.
Residents complained that the resolution was unnecessary, attempting to raise points about what constitutes harassment and infringement of freedom of speech, accusing the meeting of being for “hurt feelings” and “Facebook posts.”
One resident spoke on both sides of the argument, calling the resolution “common sense” and “human dignity,” but noted it might not be necessary to add to an “ever-expanding, lengthy list” of ordinances. It was then clarified that a resolution is not an ordinance, nor is it legally binding; rather, it shows intent and that its content matters to the village as a group.
However, the resolution proposed and read aloud at the meeting was intended to protect staff members from direct harassment, not to silence residents’ concerns, according to the council.
Mayor Bernhard reiterated to stay on topic, and the treatment of staff was the issue at hand. He once again welcomed all village residents to attend meetings, write in their concerns, and contact council members, and that there was no need to harass code enforcement. He additionally commended the police officers who deliver violation warnings, stating the officers’ intent is not to be intimidating but that they are the best resource available and — like the village staff — only doing their jobs.
The resolution was adopted with three out of four present council members in favor. Mayor Bernhard declared the motion carried 3 to 1 and stood steadfast in his belief that all residents and workers of Whispering Pines deserve to be treated with respect and maturity.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Abegail Murphy.