After much discussion, town decides on mayor’s punishment

WAXHAW – Waxhaw’s Board of Commissioners decided to take a new route for the mayor’s censure on Monday, Nov. 25, after seeing possible related costs to continue the investigation.

Commissioners unanimously adopted the Resolution of Disapproval and Non-Support of Mayor Daune Gardner, following her arrest for driving while impaired charges on June 10. Commissioner Sean Poccia was not at the meeting to vote.

“I think a lot of people think we are backing down because we aren’t doing the censure,” Commissioner Joyce Blythe said at the meeting. A censure is a formal reprimand a council can use against an elected official that amounts to no more than an embarrassing slap on the wrist. Council can not remove elected officials in North Carolina.

According to estimates from the town attorney Spencer Chaplin, finalizing the censure process would have cost about $30,000 more than the $14,000 already spent investigating for the censure. Waxhaw’s censure process includes many steps, beginning with hiring a third-party, private attorney. The attorney will then begin an investigation. At anytime the board feels there is enough information and evidence to move forward with the process, they will call for a public hearing.

During the public hearing, everyone involved will provide their testimonies, evidence and information, and the board will vote following the hearing on a nonbinding resolution censure, which would have to have a three-quarters vote to pass, according to Spencer. The censure resolution would not warrant any further action.

That is not the case in other Union County towns, where councils can vote to censure a member without previous investigation.

The Waxhaw board wants to move forward with more important business instead of spending more money on the censure, Mayor Pro Tem Erin Kirkpatrick said at the meeting. But the end result, no matter what direction the board could have decided to go, would be a nonbinding resolution.

“(Neither resolution) has the affect of any further actions,” Chaplin said. “… You have two resolutions, and this is an alternative way to move forward.”

So far, the investigation brought to light three instances when Gardner used the town credit card to purchase alcohol, although the town’s travel policy says the mayor or commissioners are not allowed to purchase alcohol with town money. Gardner also failed to submit expense reports within the required 14 days on many occasions, according to discussions at the meeting. Commissioners voted in June to revoke the mayor’s travel expenses reimbursement privileges.

According to the policy adopted on March 10, 2009, the town will not reimburse any commissioner, including the mayor, for local travel; meals may not exceed $45 per day; and the town will not reimburse charges for alcohol.  Detailed receipts must be included with all expense reports turned in.

Many commissioners requested Gardner step down from her position during discussions to begin the censure process, something she chose not to do.

“Please remember that anyone is innocent until proven otherwise.  I am and will follow proper, legal process,” Gardner said in an email in June following the board’s decision to move forward with the censure process. “… I want to make it clear that I do not intend to leave the position that the citizens of Waxhaw elected me to fulfill.  Rest assured that I will continue to perform my duties as your mayor with the same vigor, grace and poise as should be required of any elected official.”

Waxhaw police arrested Gardner after she was seen speeding and crossing the centerline on N.C. 16 in Waxhaw, authorities said. Gardner was charged with driving while impaired charges after tests showed her blood alcohol level was .18. The legal limit is .08. Gardner is scheduled to appear in Union County District Court on Dec. 5, a Thursday.

Gardner was arrested in September 2008 in Lancaster County, S.C., for driving under the influence, but the charges were later expunged from her record.  This is the mayor’s second term in office, which is scheduled to end in 2015.

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