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Our view: Bring the sunshine to Rural Hall
Our view

Our view: Bring the sunshine to Rural Hall

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With accusations flying in neighboring Rural Hall, the eminent North Carolina state treasurer, Dale Folwell, has suggested a wise course of action: He’s asked State Auditor Beth Wood to investigate allegations of financial impropriety. We hope she’ll follow his suggestion, and quickly. The longer the situation lingers with no resolution, the more likely it is to cause friction among Rural Hall residents.

Though, given the propensity for denial in which many are steeped these days, even a swift and transparent investigation may not settle matters.

The situation seems to have been brewing for some time, but it came to a boil at a council meeting on Oct. 21, when Rural Hall Town Council members John McDermon, Ricky Plunkett and Jesse Stigall all resigned their seats. They did so, they said, because of their disgust over the shameful mistreatment of the former town manager, Megan Garner, who also resigned that day.

The council members also approved a six-figure severance package for Garner, who accepted a position as city manager for Graham in Alamance County the next day.

Rural Hall Town Attorney D. Barrett Burge also resigned Oct. 21. Town Clerk Dora K. Moore resigned Oct. 13 and her last day was Oct. 27.

That’s a whole lot of resigning going on.

In his resignation letter, Plunkett referred to “false accusations” against Garner “and lies by citizens and some members of this elected body.”

Stigall criticized Rural Hall Mayor Tim Flinchum and Council member Susan Gordon in particular, saying that Gordon “has made a determined effort to rid the town of good employees and rally people to her cause.”

McDermon referred to “gossip focused on harassing our town manager” and “incidents of rumors, text messages and phone calls from residents,” some of whom tried to enlist him in getting rid of her.

Most seriously, perhaps, McDermon cited an assertion from a Rural Hall resident that $1.5 million disappeared from the town’s bank account after Garner began her job.

So far, no evidence that such a large amount of money is missing from the town’s finances has been produced.

“She deserved better,” McDermon wrote.

Following the resignations, interim Town Attorney Randolph James filed a court document alleging that Garner’s settlement agreement was obtained illegally. The town’s finance director should have done a pre-audit, the town’s budget should have been amended — a process that would have required a public meeting — and the town was under no obligation to pay severance if Garner resigned and then took another position, James said. He added that a lawsuit against Garner would be filed by Nov. 15.

We won’t presume to know what’s true at this point — we have no way of knowing. But it seems safe to say that underlying issues festered for some time before they came to a head. All three council members were long-serving veterans of the small-town political scene. They wouldn’t quit over something trivial.

“I have never seen a town more divided and believing things that are absolutely untrue,” Plunkett wrote — reflecting a situation that others have observed on a larger scale.

“The hate-fueled, almost warlike shenanigans that I have witnessed for the past two years have worn on me,” McDermon wrote, a sentiment with which many can identify.

We write this on Tuesday, Election Day in Rural Hall, not yet knowing the election results. Both Plunkett and Stigall are on the ballot, as are Terry M. Bennett and Eddie Horn, who were appointed to serve the remainder of their terms after they resigned.

We also don’t yet know the results of the highly publicized gubernatorial election in Virginia. Republican operatives have been warning for days that massive cheating is occurring — unless the Republican candidate has won, in which case, never mind.

Flinchum has indicated that Rural Hall would cooperate with a state investigation.

“I have a high degree of respect for that community and I know that the citizens and the taxpayers are as anxious to get to the bottom of this as everyone else is,” Folwell said. “It’s going to take a lot of sunshine.”

It will indeed. It will also require people who are willing to see what the light reveals. Maybe our friends in Rural Hall can teach the rest of us something about truth and acceptance.


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