Union County Pulse
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part column from Stallings council member Paul Frost, both looking back at 2011 and forward to decisions the council faces in 2012.
The New Year offers an opportunity to provide updates on recent Town of Stallings developments, and offer some projections for 2012.
Observations from 2011:
• Stallings Police Department: If I could re-do one thing in my first term as a Stallings Town Council member, I would not pursue the discussion about outsourcing the Stallings Police Department to the extent that I did. As a rookie Council member, I did not anticipate the level of discord and distrust that resulted from that incident. Today, the department has an effective leader in Mike Dummett, who has met and exceeded my expectations. While I will continue to look for ways to keep public safety costs as low as possible, I support giving the Stallings Police Department the resources that they need to carry out their mission.
• Planning for the Future: Things go much more smoothly when we plan our work and work our plan. In 2010 and 2011, the Town of Stallings created a comprehensive Capital Improvements Plan and multi-year budget projections with the help of a Finance Committee comprised of citizens and Council members with backgrounds in finance. Our auditors have commended us for being the only town of which they are aware that has its own finance advisory board. As a result of these new financial tools, our budgeting discussions have become much more efficient and straight forward. Rather than grasping at straws during spending discussions, we can new see in real terms the impact that our spending decisions has on future town priorities. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress did the same thing? Still, we still need to develop better vision for the Town in terms of economic development, infrastructural improvements, parks and recreation and pedestrian connectivity. Citizen ideas and feedback are important as we head into a planning session in mid-February to discuss these items.
Commentary on current events
• Town Manager Contract Renewal: The seven-year employment contract of our Town Manager Brian Matthews will conclude in June of this year, and is on the verge of being renewed. For background, in November 2005, with just a couple of weeks left in their terms, outgoing Mayor Lucy Drake and members of that Council extended Mr. Matthews’ employment contract for an unprecedented seven years. Also included in the contract was an extremely generous severance agreement of two full years’ pay if Mr. Matthews was involuntarily terminated by the Town without “just cause”. Although I was not a resident of Stallings at that time, I have heard that there was a good deal of outcry from citizens about the timing and terms of the contract by the outgoing mayor and council.
My purpose for drawing attention to this issue is not to attack Mr. Matthews, with whom I have a good working relationship. My responsibility is to act in the best interests of the taxpayers. Many citizens, myself included, have had to find ways to cut costs personally and professionally during the lean years of the economic downturn. In my view, long-term contracts and generous severance packages are not in the interest of the citizens. I would rather see an employment contract with no specified time commitment, or at most a three-year commitment. As for severance in case of involuntary early dismissal, 6 months is reasonable for a manager of a town the size of Stallings. Residents that agree ought to contact council members.
In addition, my preference is create a more quantifiable compensation package that rewards the manager’s performance such things as reducing operating expenses and a reduction of time that it takes to complete assignments from the Council. Currently, nothing like that exists in our manager’s employment evaluation.
• Economic Development: There has been a good deal of discussion about the need for economic development in Union County in order to reduce our dependence on residential tax dollars so we can invest in needed infrastructure. In order to help us gather ideas for economic development in Stallings, the Town Council has listened to presentations from the Union County Partnership for Progress, the Union County Chamber and others who specialize in this field. I believe Stallings can encourage the development of high-end retail that is in close proximity to our neighborhoods, and develop our industrial zones that house important companies like CEM and AEP. But in the course of recruiting new companies to Stallings, we need to make sure the business fits with the vision and character of the Town. For example, Council recently voted on a zoning request to allow a funeral home to be placed in the same building as an eye doctor, very close to a large neighborhood. The funeral home would include embalming of about 70 bodies per year, along with a limited number of funeral-related meetings. Many residents in the Stevens Mill and Emerald Lakes subdivisions strongly opposed the zoning change. Unfortunately, Councilmen Stokes, Esarove and Steele approved the zoning request at our January 9 meeting. In the future, we need to have a more thoughtful approach to economic development.