GARLAND — During monthly meetings, commissioners are usually talkative about the town’s business matters. But for a couple of minutes Tuesday night, the only noise came from a ticking clock.
The uncomfortable, silent and awkward moment came after it was time to appoint a mayor pro tem, a position which is currently held by Haywood Johnson. Commissioners voted to select Johnson for another term after S.J. Smith made a motion to do so. Mayor Winifred Murphy was unhappy about her colleagues’ decision and mentioned how she asked that Johnson be relieved of his pro tem duties because of an ongoing conflict between the two of them.
“I feel that it’s very important that the mayor and pro tem work effectively together,” Murphy said. “We have not been able to do this.”
She said her request was not all about her, but she believes removing Johnson would be best for the town. Before the vote, several commissioners chimed in on the matter after Murphy requested they do so. Commissioner Ralph Smith expressed his feelings about how Murphy addressed Johnson on an individual basis.
“When you address the board, you have to address the board, not an individual member,” Ralph stressed.
With the motion on the table, the commissioners made a request to receive more information on the situation.
“We’ve been down this road before,” S.J. Smith said.
Ralph Smith alluded to how they should continue their work and make decisions — such as picking a mayor pro tem.
“I’m not here to pass judgement on anyone,” he said. “I’m here to get done, make a motion and to vote.”
Next, Murphy said she was honored to serve and talked about the process made during her tenure, which was made possible with help from the commissioners and other community members. Some of the work included the North Carolina Small Towns Economic Prosperity (NC STEP) grants to improve sewer lines and a healthy fund balance. But Murphy believes there’s still more work to do to improve services for residents.
“In the next few years, we have the opportunity to get very much accomplished or very little,” Murphy said.
While addressing the board, she said it was important to think about what’s best for the town and not just what the mayor or commissioners want. Murphy continued to stress that she talked to the board on numerous occasions about the mayor pro tem position and the failure to have effective communication with Johnson.
“I have tried to work with this board, with Mayor Pro Tem Haywood Johnson,” she said. “I am very disappointed that this board will sit here tonight and recommend him again, when you know very well that we cannot work well.”
Next, she brought up accusations about Johnson telling lies about her and accusing her of making inappropriate, lewd actions toward him. People in attendance gasped, raised their eyebrows and become even more uncomfortable as the mayor continued.
“This is the truth,” Murphy attested. “I have documentation of that.”
As commissioners listened, she continued to express her displeasure.
“This is unacceptable … this is a deal breaker for me,” Murphy said about their decision.
S.J. Smith said everyone on the board has their point on the matter.
Johnson later responded and said he had nothing to say.
“I don’t know where the story came from,” Johnson said about Murphy’s accusations.
Commissioner Carolyn Melvin stated that Johnson was the appropriate member to take the position since no one else had time to perform the duties.
With the motion on the table, Murphy banged her gavel and attempted to adjourn the meeting before a vote occurred. Several commissioners collectively told her she was not allowed to do that.
“No one voted to adjourn the meeting,” S.J. Smith said, breaking the silence when commissioners questioned what to do next. “The commissioners got to vote to adjourn the meeting.”
Melvin added that it was inappropriate to end the meeting just because things were not going her way. Newly elected commissioner Judy Smith suggested that Murphy look into the matter regrading the accusations, but she reminded the mayor that they still had to vote.
After listening to everyone’s comments, Johnson talked about his contributions when it comes to streets and other maintenance problems in town.
“Commissioner Ralph Smith and myself get out there and we work like little slaves,” Johnson said. “And we’re just ridiculed all the time.”
He added that they do the work without asking for appreciation. Following his remarks, the commissioners approved Johnson’s appointment.
When the commissioners moved on to the next topic, which was nuisance properties in town, Murphy left the meeting because she said she felt disrespected. As she left, Melvin asked who else has the time for the mayor pro tem position, besides Johnson. S.J. Smith brought up moments when she put a “gag order” on the board during meetings. But Murphy alluded to how it was a response to being screamed at.
“I’m just really shocked at this board,” Murphy said as she gathered her stuff. “I thought we could get a good start for the next two years.”
Johnson sat in the mayor’s seat for the remainder of the meeting, conducting business in her absence, one of several duties of a mayor pro tem.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.