Robbins Board Thanks Bell as New Mayor Takes Over
An era ended in Robbins last week as the town gavel passed from Theron Bell to new Mayor Lonnie English.
Bell began the last meeting of her 18 years of service on the town board on a somber note. A deputy sheriff had been shot to death earlier that day. Calling the meeting to order, Bell asked a packed crowd in Town Hall to pause a moment in tribute to the fallen officer.
“Before we start with the invocation I would like for you all to remember a Moore County sheriff that was killed today,” Bell said. “His name was Rick Rhyne. He was the uncle of Chelsea Thomas, who is our finance officer. I ask you to think of him and his family and Chelsea in your prayers.”
Chief Jeff Sheffield — a longtime friend of Rhyne — had had the sad task earlier that afternoon to break the news to Thomas, who left to be with the family.
The meeting started with a public hearing on a proposed change in permitted uses for the town’s thoroughfare business district (TBD) to permit commercial truck or tractor trailer parking there.
Only one person spoke, pointing out that the outlines of the district are patchy and drivers of those vehicles are unlikely to know exactly where TBD boundaries lie.
During the public address to the board, commissioner-elect Kevin Stewart, who would take his seat later in the meeting, asked the commissioners to defer voting on a proposal contract for a preliminary engineering report until the first of the year. He said he hoped by that time Robbins would have received a response from county commissioners on a proposed town/county water partnership.
“If they don’t send us a proposal, I myself will make the motion to approve it at our January meeting,” Stewart said.
The board decided to stick with the approved agenda and take that matter up at this meeting.
Town Manager George Hayfield reported that much work had been done to clear up the donated Ray Building in the center of town. Noah Key had donated it to Robbins following a proposal that came out of the town’s partnership with the state’s Small Town Main Street program.
He explained that trucks parked at a business are allowed, but the change in the TBD table of permitted uses would mean only that overnight parking would be allowed in that town zone — something now not permitted.
Bell reported on the Small Town Main Street meeting in November, the town tree lighting on Nov. 19, and said she’d given out certificates for downtown window decorating.
“First place went to Northern Moore Family Resource Center,” she said. “Second place went to Robin’s Nest — the pet shop down here — and third place went to B&G Fashions, the Rainbow Vacuum shop. Everyone in town did a great job. I think having these displays really invites people in town, and thank the merchants. They really did a great job this year.”
Bell thanked the Robbins Rescue Squad and the town police department for making a successful Christmas parade possible. She reported on meeting with other towns that morning in Star at an N.C. STEP regional meeting.
“I encourage you that will sworn in tonight to please be engaged with that,” Bell said. “That is part of the North Carolina Rural Center. Believe me, they have grants and you want to be working with them as much as possible.”
She praised Hayfield’s presentation of what Robbins — one of the first STEP towns — has been doing following its four years of being in the program. Robbins is now considered a mentor for other communities entering the STEP (Small Town Economic Prosperity) program.
After some discussion, the board deferred decision on the truck parking TBD change until the borders with the Central Business District and other clarifications could be made and considered by the town planning board.
Water Issue Approved
A motion by Lynn Loy to table approval of an agreement with the Wooten Co. for a preliminary engineering and environmental report on water sources until after receipt of Moore County’s written proposal failed on a 3-2 vote.
John Grey, from Wooten, explained that this report would be done to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards. By federal rules, the report must include a “do nothing” option examining present costs and rates. A second project has to be considered, and connection to the Asheboro water system is an option included to meet that requirement.
“That takes some time,” Grey said. “We have to limit that, because the limit USDA places on this work is $25,000.”
That amount could be awarded as part of a USDA grant to Robbins if the town proceeds on federal financing with any of the projects.
The commissioners approved the contract, again 3 to 2, with Loy and Terri Holt opposing and Rocky Davis, Claire Barron and Joey Boswell in favor.
The contract does not mean Robbins will move forward with a well-based water sourced system, only that Robbins will know the technical feasibility and cost of such an option compared with others.
“It’s about what’s best for Robbins,” Grey said.
Boswell moved approval pending certain word changes and subject to approval by town attorney Doug Gill.
After completing items of unfished business, Bell introduced Susan Hicks, clerk of Superior Court, who would administer the oaths of office to new members of the board.
It was her final duty as mayor, her last act completing nearly two decades of service on the Town Board. Bell left the building during a short break that followed.
Hicks first swore in English as mayor, then for new board member Stewart, and Davis, who won re-election last month.
Loy, who was the town fire chief for many years, is leaving the board.
“It’s been fun,” he said, watching Hicks give Davis the oath.
English gaveled the meeting back to order.
“I don’t know if this is the right time, but I am going to say it anyway,” English said, thanking all who came. “I think we definitely need to thank Mrs. Bell — I know she’s left — for all the things that she’s done serving on this board. I just hope and pray that I can do the same thing for Robbins. Like I said, it is my hometown. I also want to thank the Lord, because the Lord was in it.”
His first official act was to preside over selection of Davis as mayor pro tem on a motion by Boswell. Only Holt opposed. While Davis did not vote for himself, his silence counted as a “yes” vote under town rules.
Following refreshments, the board returned with only comments from the commissioners remaining on the agenda.
Davis expressed the hope the town would continue to progress, saying there was much to do. Barron welcomed the new mayor and said Robbins has a lot of heart.
“All of us care about this town,” she said, looking out at the crowd. “I hope you come back to more meetings.”
Boswell also welcomed English to the board and hoped the new board would work well together.
‘Looking to Future’
Holt said she hoped the board would “go into some sort of closed session soon to talk about some things that have happened recently in this town, so we can all know what has been going on.”
She did not say what things she was talking about. Closed sessions are limited by statute to a very few matters.
At that point, new commissioner Stewart said he would like to make a motion. A question immediately arose as to whether the mayor could alter an agenda after the board had approved it or hear new motions after moving past new business. English — with apparent reluctance — ruled any motion out of order.
Stewart said in an interview after the meeting that he would have moved to ask the town attorney to attend all board meetings. He said too many issues had come up at meetings that required legal advice. He added that he will bring the proposal before the board next month.
“I didn’t run just to be on the board,” Stewart said. “I mean to go to work. We had questions on the water contract. We had questions on procedure.”
He said he had attended board meetings for several months as an interested observer after filing for election.
“I hope I did it right,” English said, after adjourning the meeting on a vote from the board. “Here is the thing: I want us doing something — looking to the future.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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