SP Council Expected to Tap Fields
Southern Pines Mayor-Elect David McNeill would like to see Mike Fields, who did not seek re-election last month, remain on the council in his former seat.
“I don’t know of anyone else with his expertise and experience,” McNeill said Wednesday at the council’s monthly agenda meeting.
But council member Chris Smithson called for an “open and inviting process” to fill the remaining two years of McNeill’s vacated seat.
“I think in a reasonable amount of time we could find out who is interested and then agree on who the replacement should be,” Smithson said. “It could very well be Mike. My problem with this has nothing to do with Mike, and I’ve told him so. We’re filling a job and it would make sense to advertise for that job at some level. I’m not asking for a long, drawn-out process.”
Smithson made a motion for the council to advertise for candidates and establish a process for formal interviews and evaluation, but it died for lack of a second.
Council member Fred Walden said he believes that Fields is the best candidate.
“I don’t think we should get anybody’s hopes up,” Walden said. “I can’t think of a better candidate than Mike because he brings so much to this council.”
Fields, Southern Pines attorney Marsh Smith, former council member David Woodruff and Southern Pines businesswoman Jeannie Carpentier have all expressed interest in the vacant seat.
Smith and Woodruff finished third and fourth, respectively, in last month’s election for the seats won by Walden and town Planning Board member Jim Simeon. Carpentier serves on the Southern Pines Appearance Commission, has been named to the Stakeholder Steering Committee for the upcoming revision of the town’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and served on the stakeholder committee for last year’s update of the town’s Comprehensive Long-Range Plan (CLRP).
“All four have the intelligence, passion and dedication to do the job,” Smithson said. “It’s hard work and takes smarts, but it’s not rocket science.”
McNeill emphasized at the agenda meeting that appointing Fields was not solely “a David McNeill idea.”
“I’ve had numerous individuals approach me since the election to see if Mike would fulfill the role,” McNeill said. “He’s highly respected by the citizenry.”
Smithson questioned at the agenda meeting why Fields didn’t seek re-election.
“He could have run again,” Smithson said.
Fields said Thursday that personal issues earlier in the year prompted him to step aside.
“I wasn’t in a position to make a four-year commitment at the time and wanted to give people interested in running time to do so,” Fields said. “A lot of those issues have since been resolved, and I can make a two-year commitment at this time.”
Fields said he is confident that he would have been re-elected had he chosen to throw his hat in the ring.
“I’ve run four times in Southern Pines — twice for Town Council and twice for mayor — and won decisively every time,” he said.
Mayor Mike Haney noted at the agenda meeting that the council is only required by North Carolina law to fill McNeill’s council seat.
“There is no mandated procedure,” Haney said.
Fields added that “an overwhelming majority” of Southern Pines voters elected McNeill, Simeon and Walden.
“It’s their decision, along with Chris Smithson, as to whom they want to fill the vacant seat,” Fields said. “It stands to reason that they would appoint someone whom they felt they could work well with to move Southern Pines forward in a positive manner.”
Carpentier said after the meeting that her main concerns were “a lack of transparency, lack of process and lack of diversity among council members.”
“And diversity doesn’t necessarily refer to gender,” she said. “It could be bringing different talents and ideas to the table. But a woman could bring compassion, sensitivity and open, effective communication.”
Carpentier agreed with Smithson that the process should be open.
“Why would the town ask people to submit applications for the UDO committee but not a council seat?” she said. “There are so many citizens who are putting in a lot of volunteer hours for the town that are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the council.”
The council is expected to vote on the appointment at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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