In an E-mail read aloud, Williamston resident Jennifer Chisholm expressed her skepticism of the special city council meeting being held the night of, Dec. 19, 2007,
“I am all for new businesses in this town. We need the infrastructure if we are going to remain solvent. However holding a ‘special’ meeting for ONE business that hosted your OWN fundraiser is extremely suspect.”
The Williamston City Council held a two-hour special meeting that Wednesday night to take action on the RiverHouse Inn’s liquor license application.
The Williamston restaurant had waited a year and a half for its liquor license in order to open. The council, meeting for the second time since Nov. 7’s election added four new members, met that night to make sure the request would appear on the Jan. 3, 2008 Liquor Control Commission agenda.
Former council member Penny Davis was in attendance that night and started off the audience participation with her concerns. Davis raised question to why the special meeting was being held.
“My concern was that, or my belief is, that the special meeting was not required because it could have waited until the next regularly scheduled meeting,” Davis said in an interview. Davis does not believe the agenda covered that night was urgent enough to call a special meeting and it could have waited until the next scheduled council meeting, Jan. 7, 2008.
Davis is also concerned with how much the meeting cost taxpayers. From her own estimates, the seven council members get paid $50 per meeting they attend, plus the two city attorneys who attended received $250 an hour for the two-hour meeting. That estimate alone equates to $1300 and does not include pay for the other city council staff who were in attendance.
When a call made was made to Alan Dolley, the Williamston City Treasurer, asking the exact cost of the meeting, he referred us to City Manager Lisa Hitchcock. No response back has been received from anyone at City Hall.
On Jan. 7, 2008, the first city council meeting of the New Year, Penny Davis again raised concerns during the audience participation. Mayor Michelle Hyne responded at the end of the meeting during the council members comments.
In the council’s verbatim record, Hyne stated it was her original understanding the commission only met twice a year. In reality it meets at least once a week. She noticed it had a meeting Jan. 3, 2008 and wanted the council to approve it in time so the commission could take action.
She also stated a senior advisor from McKenna and Associates, a planning-firm whom the city has a contract with, had advised a special meeting to take place. Hyne said she was confident in the decision that was made and she encouraged a “transparent government”.
However residents like Davis and Chisholm question the council’s motives. As Chisholm alluded to and Davis describes, the RiverHouse Inn held fundraisers and lent support during the recent election for several new runners, including Hyne.
Davis, Chisholm and several other residents wonder if a correlation exists between the RiverHouse’s fundraising and the special meeting that took place.
Davis sums up the residents concerns, “I don’t believe that the cost of the city was necessary…when they could have waited until the Jan. 7 meeting and got on the liquor control’s agenda in a couple of days.”
Again, we were told City Manager Lisa Hitchcock was handling the incident, but not immediate call back was received. For now, it appears no additional action is being taken and the action to approve the RiverHouse Inn’s liquor license stands.