‘The Letter’ sparks criticism

Published 9:34 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

GATESVILLE – Linda Hofler was not pleased; neither was Earl Rountree.

Those two spoke in opposition to a stance taken by the Gates County Board of Commissioners that scolded Planning Board member Chuck Brothers for his apparent contact with two North Carolina agencies.

In a July 19 letter to Brothers, signed by Commission Chairman Graham Twine and copied to all Commissioners, Brothers was informed of the Board of Commissioners’ “position of personal comments made to the media or any entity doing business with the County by those serving on Boards, Committees or Commissions appointed by the Commissioners.”

“We are disappointed by some of your recent actions; namely your inappropriate contacting of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. There is a perception by the Board of Commissioners that there is a conflict between your actions and the Board of Commissioners’ goals, wishes and vision,” the letter stated.

The letter went on to put Brothers on formal notice, saying that “further inappropriate actions will not be tolerated by the appointing authority of your position on the Gates County Planning Board.”

“If you are not willing to adhere to the goals, wishes and vision of the Commissioners for the good of the County, we would request that you make arrangements with the Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, within 30 days, to discuss this matter with the Board of Commissioners so we can evaluate your desire to continue to serve,” the letter concluded.

Those words drew the ire of Linda Hofler, Chair of the Gates County Planning Board. She offered her comments on the matter during the public comment portion of last week’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

“I talked with Chairman Twine concerning my concerns about the letter,” Hofler said. “I asked had he talked with Mr. Brothers before sending the letter and the answer was, no. That kind of bothered me. We don’t live in New York City; all of us know everybody; if you have a problem, at least give me the benefit to come talk with me. That would have been common courtesy.

“As I looked at a copy of the letter, it talked about your goals, your wishes and your vision,” Hofler stated. “I’ve been on the planning board, I think now for two terms, and the only vision statement I’ve seen is from CAMA (Coastal Area Management Agency). I have not seen anything in writing about your (commissioners) goals and vision. I think they would be beneficial to all of us if we know what they are.”

Hofler said she and others on the Planning Board make an effort to gain information in order to make informed decisions.

“We look for information; we call people; this is public information,” she stressed. “We are citizens of North Carolina; we are taxpayers; we have the right to call officials. If you send out letters because people talk to our officials, then you should have sent them to four or five of us (Planning Board members). I know for a fact that at least that many of us have contacted officials in other counties and at the state level. We have to talk to other people when it’s not locally provided. We use this information to help us make valid decisions.”

Hofler continued, “Some people have good ideas about how to approach a problem and we have a lot of problems when it comes to some of our zoning. We talk to other people outside our area about this who have gone through similar situations. I think that’s a good thing; to have people interested in doing the right thing. Better decisions can be formed when you have good information at your fingertips.

“If you don’t want us to make informed decisions; if you just want us to rubber stamp your decisions, then you don’t need us. That’s all I’ve got to say,” she concluded.

Rountree, also speaking at last week’s meeting, said the letter infringed on Brothers’ First Amendment rights.

“I’m here to talk about something I’ve talked about for nearly three years and that is the First Amendment of the (US) Constitution,” Rountree stated. “As long I’m living, as long as there is a Constitution, whenever I see someone’s rights being invaded I’m going to speak up.

“I wish that you as commissioners would be careful when you write letters and infringe on people’s First Amendment rights,” he added. “Chuck Brothers, or anyone else for that matter, has the right to call anyone they want to. You, as commissioners, also have that right; you don’t have to clear it first with the other commissioners. I wish ya’ll had re-examined this letter before you sent it because it has caused one heck of a lot of controversy in this county.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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