New Mayor, Council Member Causes Controversy - TribPapers
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New Mayor, Council Member Causes Controversy

Patrick Fitzsimmons sworn in as Mayor of Weaverville.

Weaverville – Vice Mayor Doug Jackson opening the first meeting of Weaverville Town Council without Al Root as mayor on Monday evening (Aug. 23th) with an explanation followed by questions about the agenda. 

Town Clerk James Eller said that since Mayor Al Root had resigned effective the beginning of the meeting, the council was empowered to replace the mayor and then replace the vacant seat on the board left by the councilperson who became mayor. Councilman Patrick Fitzsimmons, the only person running for the mayor position in the November election, was expected to accept the position three months early, which is why Root said he was resigning early.

Jackson then made a statement as to why he is not seeking to fill the post. Jackson said the voters chose him to be on the council and vote, not to be the mayor. Then Jackson moved to appoint Fitzsimmons as mayor, which Councilwoman Dottie Sherrill seconded. 

Asked for any discussion from board members, Councilman Andrew Nagle questioned if it was appropriate to move forward without first approving the meeting agenda. 

To which, Town Attorney Jennifer Jackson answered, “Typically the mayor helps sets the agenda, it was that that was the best first bit of action for town council to take given the resignation that was presented at your last meeting.”

Nagle then asked why there was no public comment allowed on this item. 

Nagle said, “This leads me to believe that we’re not interested in public comment. Is that correct?”

Attorney Jackson started to answer and Nagle asked if she had set the agenda, to which she said no. “I was asking that of the vice-mayor,” said Nagle. 

However, Attorney Jackson continued her response. “It has been the practice to allow the mayor to designate the items for public comment,” she said. “So we’re not interested in public comment on how we fill that seat.”

That’s the answer,” interjected Nagle.

Nagle then asked if Fitzsimmons should recuse himself since he stood to gain financially from the vote, as the mayor stipend is higher than that of a council member. 

“I was asked to recuse myself when I didn’t have anything to do with my father-in-law’s rezoning,” said Nagle. 

Attorney Jackson explained that was because Nagle had a familial relationship, but since that Fitzsimmons financial gain was so small, it wasn’t a factor. Fitzsimmons chose to go ahead and recuse himself from the vote. When the vote was taken, it was a 3-1 vote, with Nagle voting against, and Fitzsimmons was sworn into office.

The new mayor then moved to fill the vacant seat left on the council. Councilman Jeff McKenna immediately recommended John Chase, who sits on the planning and zoning board. Sherrill seconed Fitzsimmons, who didn’t call for any other nominations, but called for the vote. Nagle asked for discussion before the vote. He also asked the board to hold off filling the seat until after the November election but was outvoted 3-1. Chase was then sworn in and took his place on the board. The board then voted on the agenda, with Nagle voting against it.

General public comments

After passing the minutes from the last board meetings, McKenna offered a proclamation, making former Mayor Al Root an honorary marshall of the town, which passed. The board then heard from the public.

Two people spoke in favor of the mask mandate ordered by former Mayor Root as he left office. The owner of Weaverville Center for Creative & Healthy Living asked for a way to get information out rapidly from the town to his volunteers. He also thank the town for the support. 

Resident Lou Accornero reminded the town that he spoke previously of a protest ordinance requiring a bond in case of damages to property. He said that during last year’s Asheville protests that there was talk from the protesters about coming to Weaverville and to Reems Creek to burn down Vance’s birthplace. He offered disdain for the City of Asheville and Buncombe County governments. He suggested that the council have some type of apprenticeship for becoming a council member so they can be substituted immediately if there is a problem.  

Resident Thomas Veasey, who is running for a seat on the council in the November election, chastised the board for doing away with cost of living raises for the town’s employees. 

“You stabbed them in the back big time,” he said. 

Veasey also lectured the board for not filling the vacant seat with either himself or one of the other candidates that are running for office. He also called for more parks and an urban planner to design the town’s future growth. Fitzsimmons responded to Veasey’s statement to filling the empty seat, saying that he felt it would be “very inappropriate” to interfere with a contested election. 

Asked after the meeting if he conferred with any other council member about who would be nominated, Fitzsimmons said no. Asked if he knew that McKenna was going to nominate Chase, he again answered no. This contradicts what Root told the Tribune. “Patrick asked me if I thought that John Chase would make a good choice and I told Patrick that I thought John would (based on my work with John on my home and building as well as his P&Z work). I joined Patrick in meeting with John a few days later to share my experience of having served on council,” said Root in an email to the Tribune. Fitzsimmons, who was asked by email about this inconsistency, did not reply as of press time.

Other business

In the consent agenda, the board passed the monthly tax report & tax collector’s settlement, road closure ordinance for Art in Autumn (Sept. 18th) and North Buncombe’s Homecoming Parade (Oct. 1st), several budget amendments and the pay plan and position classification plan.

The board then moved on to the action and discussion items, first of which was the new community center. The council was asked to approve the sixth change order to the center of just over $4,000. Town Manager Selena Coffey was asked about any penalties that the construction company, Goforth Builders, had incurred for being late on the project. She told the council none so far. The board approved the change order.

The board also was updated by Attorney Jackson on legal compliance and then on the Comprehensive Land Use Plan Update by Eller, who was congratulated on his plan without the use of an urban planner. 

Weaverville Police Chief Ron Davis then updated the town on the effort to get a short portion of Merrimon Avenue speed reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph to match the rest of the road’s speed. The board was asked to pass a resolution asking the state to reduce the speed, which they did. Davis, along with Fire Chief Ted Williams, gave their quarterly report before the meeting was adjourning for the night.

Editor’s note: Be sure to read Clint’s Corner of this meeting on page 15.

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