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Editorial: That's No Way To "Work Together" On Council

Managing Editor

Last week I covered a March 30, council meeting where Carolina Beach Mayor Ray Rothrock called for a vote to lift a hiring freeze that was approved by a 3-2 vote at their March 13, meeting.
The meeting was continued from the March 13, meeting to discuss other agenda items and talk about the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The previous vote to implement the hiring freeze was approved by Council members Steve Shuttleworth - who called for the vote - Sarah Friede and Bob Lewis. They wanted more time to consider the budget before adopting it in June at which point the Town Manager could once again hire all positions per the adopted budget.
Mayor Rothrock and Councilman Lonnie Lashley opposed that hiring freeze.
Fast-forward to the March 30, meeting. Councilman Lewis said he had to leave early because of previous work obligations. After all, a man has to earn a living.
There was discussion among the council on various items prior to Lewis leaving the meeting.
Later in the meeting Rothrock called for a vote to lift the hiring freeze. He did in an expedient manner not typical of council meetings.
As soon as the vote was called, Rothrock and Lashley voted in favor of lifting the hiring freeze on all positions including police chief. Obviously Shuttleworth and Friede voted against Rothrock's motion.
Rothrock was quick to point out that since Lewis didn't ask for Council to vote to excuse him, his absence equaled a yes vote in favor of the motion.
Immediately Shuttleworth objected in no uncertain terms.  Lewis later commented that Rothrock must feel he was elected King and is losing the respect of his fellow council members.
Shuttleworth immediately directed the Town Manager to put the item back on the agenda for their next meeting on April 10. It the tables had been turned, there's no doubt that Rothrock would have taken issue with the Council not working together or displaying a unified message.
Years ago during his time as Mayor he was of the majority on Council and ran the executive offices of the Town in concert with the Town Manager.
Had Joel Macon or Pat Efird tried a similar strategy years ago, Rothrock would have certainly pulled out all of the stops to oppose such a move.
Regardless of how one feels about a hiring freeze, that's an item that was brought up during  an official meeting, discussed, people disagreed, but more importantly, the majority of five people voted to implement it.
That's called democracy.
If you're one of those five elected leaders and three don't agree with you, you should respect that if for no other reason than to respect the very foundation of the democratic process.   While Rothrock was correct that Lewis wasn't officially excused and therefore his vote counted in favor of lifting the hiring freeze, he knew without a doubt that Lewis would have voted against it if he were present. That's unprofessional. And is begging fellow council members to no longer show any respect for him.
If one wants to generate consensus among council members and foster a positive working relationship, then depending on the technicality of absence of one council member to win a vote is contrary to that end.
But now they're all well aware, so that opportunity will likely never happen again.
To be so blatant is executing that technical advantage in such a transparent manner is not a victory for the mayor, the Town or the voters, but serves as a indicator of how far the Mayor will go to get his way regardless of what the majority of the Council desires. He has said Council should work together, make decisions, agree to disagree and move on. The March 30, vote will only make the rest of the council - short of Lashley - suspect of the Mayor. If will linger as a dark cloud over his reputation to be a consensus builder and leader rather than a politician that will do anything to see an agenda pushed forward whether or not the majority of Council agrees.
The next time the Mayor's out of Town on vacation, the Council majority may decide to call a special meeting and tell him what happened later.
On the other hand, I doubt they would do that. Two wrongs don't make a right.