Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Navassa councilman, finance officer James Hardy to step down next month

James Hardy speaking to two constituents after Navassa Town Council’s Thursday meeting. (Carl Blankenship/PCD)

NAVASSA — A brief meeting with some high tensions and old issues culminated in a Navassa official announcing he was stepping down on Thursday.

By the end of the night’s open session, councilmember James Hardy, who served on the board since 2019, announced the regular meeting next month will be his last. His term expires next year.

READ MORE: Financial reports late again? Navassa council member blames lack of auditors, state treasurer calls out mismanagement

“I knew as an elected official I would have to sacrifice my time but not my character,” Hardy told the board.

After the meeting adjourned, Hardy confirmed to Port City Daily he has considered resigning since August. He pointed to the board’s dysfunction, as well as “personal issues” he declined to comment further on as primary reasoning.

Hardy was arrested July 7 for driving with a revoked license and not stopping for a police officer. He said he was returning from town hall after signing financial paperwork.

Since June 16, Hardy also has served as the town’s finance officer, paying its bills and handling payroll.

He was appointed after Navassa’s former administrator Claudia Bray resigned and the town could no longer administrate its finances. The council attempted to host meetings that month, but not enough members attended to form a quorum. Eventually, the council managed to convene after pressure from the state’s Local Government Commission

ALSO: ‘Pyrrhic victory’: Navassa’s divided council reunites to debate next moves, save town

The move came after the town had furloughed its employees in the wake of Bray’s departure. The council approved a $1,500 bonus in an effort to compensate employees after they were brought back to work in June. 

The town’s financial woes date back to years of late audits and trouble repaying debt. Town council submitted a 2021 audit report late and it was not reviewed by the state until Jan. 3 of this year.

Hardy said the town was making progress on getting its finances in order. The councilman will leave the board with an annual audit contract in place with Goldsboro firm Nunn, Brashear and Uzzell for $9,978. Its previous auditor, S. Preston Douglas and Associates, was not able to schedule the town this year.

Hardy told PCD he personally contacted more than 100 firms to find one with an opening for the town.

The audit, due Oct. 31, will almost certainly be late, as announced at August’s council meeting.

Hardy said he will leave a list of town administrator candidates behind for the council to consider as well.

“There shouldn’t be anything left undone, more or less,” Hardy said.

After his resignation announcement Thursday, the meeting moved forward with none of his fellow elected officials commenting on his departure.

Mayor Eulis Willis told PCD Hardy’s resignation “totally surprised” him.

He did credit Hardy for being “pretty sharp” and introducing the board to new ideas, but declined to elaborate further.

“He definitely brought a different perspective to Navassa,” Willis said.

According to Willis, the town is searching for a permanent employee to serve as town manager and finance officer, but council may have to appoint another interim next month.

Mayor Willis and Hardy haven’t always seen eye to eye, some of which was on display Thursday night as well.

Though there were a few uncontroversial points in the evening, like signing off on some minor change orders and staff reports, the mayor hijacked the meeting, speaking over board members and challenging rebuttals. He did not like a new addition proposed to the Lena Springs subdivision  — which has been added to over the years and is now in phase five. He said the project would require students to walk farther to their school buses.

During the discussion Willis stormed out of the room, only to return a few moments later.

Upon his exit, Hardy pointed out Brunswick County Schools had accommodated making pickup safer for his children by stopping directly in front of his home, where there is no sidewalk. He believed it would be a waste of taxpayer money to challenge a project that could result in a lawsuit when the developer had followed the required steps.

Returning to the meeting, Willis held in his hand a printed copy of the town’s ordinances and started pointing to when plat approvals expire. Several dates, including 2007, 2019, and 2020, were hurled out during the discussion, but town attorney Norwood Blanchard assured Willis state law supersedes the town’s ordinance and the project was in compliance. The council ultimately signed off on the addition to the development.

It also signed off on an easement but not without conflict. Councilman William Ballard asked a representative of Duke Power to provide an assurance “in writing” that a new line easement would not impact his property before he voted on the issue. Duke had already made an adjustment that would avoid Ballard’s property line.

Blanchard had to advise Ballard to recuse himself from the vote due to conflict of interest. The town attorney also said council will need to appoint someone to serve the remainder of Hardy’s seat.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who has purview over the LGC, said Hardy’s resignation is another piece of concerning news about the town. In July he mentioned Navassa in the same breath as East Laurinburg, which recently ceased to exist after the LGC revoked its charter.

“Every time there’s a new story out about [Navassa,] it takes away from the rich tradition of that community,” Folwell said. “Our job at the Local Government Commission is to rescue, not conquer, but we can’t rescue someone who doesn’t want to be rescued.”

Folwell said he believes most people who have read headlines about the town throughout the years would come to the conclusion its council does not want help.

Hardy’s last meeting will be Nov. 17.

He will provide the council with a hard copy of his resignation letter Monday morning.

“I don’t see a way that I can continue on, personally, and also do my job of doing what’s in the best interest of the citizens,” Hardy said.

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