Council balks at payment

Published 9:40 am Thursday, October 15, 2009

MURFREESBORO – Town officials here have opted not to pay a $12,600 bill they received from a Virginia consulting firm.

On the other side of that issue, the Chief Executive Officer of that firm says he bears no ill will towards the town in regards to the non-payment.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here Tuesday, the five members of the Murfreesboro Town Council voted unanimously to refuse payment of the $12,600 invoice (dated Sept. 29) from ALROD Enterprises, Inc.

“Town Council objects to Invoice Number 909CS as they did not authorize the work to be done on behalf of the Town,” stated a letter, dated Oct. 13, which was approved to be forwarded to Dr. Albert W. Thweatt, CEO of ALROD Enterprises.

The letter went on to state that, “The work covered under the aforementioned invoice violates the Town’s Purchasing Policy and will not be paid.”

The invoice was for “consultative services.” According to the town’s response, those services were for…“Introducing developers to the Town of Murfreesboro, a Hardees Franchise Feasibility Study for Mayor (Lynn) Johnson, information for a regional expansion commission and a Murfreesboro economic development document.”

According to the town’s Purchasing Policy (Article II, Section 4; Purchases beyond Budgeted Appropriation, Pre-Audit): “The Town Council must authorize any purchase, before such purchase is completed, if the cost is greater than the amount as approved in the current town operating budget.”

The town’s policy also includes a competitive bidding process, as outlined in Article IV, Section 1…“Competitive bidding in compliance with North Carolina General Statute 143-129 et. seq. shall be required for all purchases equal to or in excess of $2500; unless specifically exempted by this Policy or through Town Council approval.”

Councilman Lloyd Hill made the motion to approve sending the letter that explains the town’s reasoning for not paying the bill. It was seconded by Councilman Billy Theodorakis and approved by a 5-0 vote.

No discussion was heard prior to the vote, but Theodorakis later broached the issue upon reaching the “Council Comments” portion of Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

“He (Dr. Thweatt) understands he’s not getting paid, right,” quizzed Theodorakis.

“Yes,” answered Mayor Johnson.

“We didn’t know we had a project going on,” Theodorakis said. “Council was not advised of this. We didn’t authorize anything.”

“Neither did I,” Johnson replied.

“He felt like someone did; he sent a bill for $12,600,” the Councilman noted.

“This should come as no surprise. I talk to many developers. He (Dr. Thweatt) is just one,” stated the mayor.

“I don’t think anyone does a feasibility study on their own…unsolicited,” Theodorakis said.

Contacted on Wednesday by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Dr. Thweatt said he was aware that the town would not pay the bill.

“We will not press the city for any payment of the costs we expended in this study,” Dr. Thweatt said, speaking from his office in Petersburg, Va. “We have been congenial and cordial to Murfreesboro. We have offered our experience and knowledge in an effort to help the town. We want to see the area grow; we want to see the city go forward.”

He continued, “We bear no ill will over the non-payment. Ours was a labor of effort. We see it as an investment that will hopefully pay off down the road for this company.”

In regards to how he became acquainted with the town, Dr. Thweatt said he first went to Murfreesboro at the request of an associate, who then introduced him to Mayor Johnson.

“We talked about how the town could embellish its projected growth, in part due to Chowan University joining the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) and the number of people that would be attracted to the town for college sporting events,” he said.

Dr. Thweatt said he has visited Murfreesboro on a number of occasions to address economic development; in particular the town landing a motel/hotel and to work with Chowan University on a possible plan there to improve student housing.

“We have no official agreement with the town,” he noted. “All of the costs we have incurred up until this point we’ll just have to bear and we don’t mind doing so.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Johnson gave each council member and the Town Administrator a copy of a letter she personally received from Dr. Thweatt. That letter, dated Oct. 8 and one which Dr. Thweatt verified on Wednesday as sent by e-mail, stated…“The company was not offered any contract by you (Johnson) or anyone else from the city of Murfreesboro, but was by invitation attending sessions addressing economic changes that would impact the need for hotel, restaurant (Hardees) as well as student housing.”

Earlier, ALROD submitted a 34-page informational packet that addressed economic development in Murfreesboro. The only date on that packet was July 27, 2009 – a feasibility study and financial information for application for a Hardees franchise in Murfreesboro. The cover sheet said it was prepared by Dr. Albert W. Thweatt for Lynn Johnson – Mayor, Murfreesboro, NC.

ALROD did submit a general MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to the town in a letter dated Sept. 29. That MOU was for providing consultative resource services toward economic development projects in and around Murfreesboro. Dr. Thweatt proposed an initial fee of $100 per hour plus travel.