Critics insist Williams resign

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, November 11, 2015

By Allison T. Williams

Staff writer

Several opponents to the proposed Pierceville subdivision marched out of the Nov. 3 Smithfield Town Council meeting after disrupting council members’ comments, and followed up the next day with an email demanding that Mayor Carter Williams resign.

More than 60 people packed Tuesday’s public hearing to rezone Pierceville, a historic farm and dilapidated manor house on the fringes on the downtown historic district, for a 151-home subdivision. The proposal has drawn emotional, vocal opposition throughout the town’s planning process and prompted several email exchanges sent to and/or shared with The Smithfield Times.

Tension at Tuesday’s meeting hit a breaking point after council members brought up the contents of emails that questioned the capabilities of town employees. After at least one person interrupted Williams’ comments, the group walked out of the meeting. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Williams later apologized.

“If I hurt or upset anybody, I sincerely apologize. It was not my intention at all,” he said Monday. “I love this town.”

During the meeting, each council member took a turn commenting on the proposed development. When it came time for Williams to talk, he began by saying the town and its residents have worked harmoniously together in the past.

But recently, Williams said he’s been called a liar and has had friends pitted against each other over this proposed development. He asked that the person calling him a liar do so to his face.

“Man up and come to me and tell me a I’m a liar. Don’t let me hear it on the streets,” he said.

“That’s not working together, folks.”

Williams then moved on to the town’s newer residents.

“People move in here and want to do what they want to do. You all moved in here, we’ve been here … we’ve watched you all move in here and we’ve enbraced that,” he said, adding that new residents have made many positive contributions to the town.

Williams went to say, however, that there were some things that were off the table, as far as he was concerned.

“I am not going to put up with, I’m not going to stand for you chastising our staff. You have done that unmercifully. You’ve said they don’t know what they’re doing, not doing the procedure right, not going through the right motions … I take offense to that,” Williams said, adding that town Planning and Zoning Administrator William Saunders, Town Manager Peter Stephenson and town attorney William Riddick have 80 years of combined zoning experience.

R.B. Braunhardt, a Goose Hill resident helping spearhead opposition to the planned subdivision, said the group left on its own after voicing frustration with Williams’ comments. Although he did not initially direct them to leave, Smithfield Police Col. Alonzo Howell said he did follow the group out to make sure they left the building.

“They were disruptive … and it (the situation) had the potential to escalate,” said Howell. “My job is to keep peace and order … and with that number of people and only one officer present, that was my primary concern.”

“We left on our own, in utter disgust after the mayor’s … abusive, unprofessional comments,” said Braunhardt, who moved to Smithfield 14 years ago. Many in his group believe Williams’ comments validate their perception that the town doesn’t value input from Smithfield residents who were not born and bred in town.

In an email sent Wednesday, Braunhardt and his wife, Sharla, called for Williams to publicly apologize and resign after “singlehandedly turning what was a productive, respectful meeting into an insult to all citizens who were not born in Smithfield.”

The email said Williams should not have used a public forum to address an email written by opponent Mark Gay. In an Oct. 23 email, Gay questioned the town’s use and knowledge of town code and its zoning and subdivision ordinances.

“All that is actually required to understand the Town Code & Ordinances is a basic understanding of the King’s English … and 8th-grade reading comprehension,” Gay wrote, in the Oct. 23 email. “Article 5 of the Subdivision Ordinance is an easy 13-page read.

 “…Either way, we believe Town Attorney is incorrect in stating that [sic] ‘Town Council has final authority in all matters to do with rezoning.’  Clearly, Town Code and both ordinances convey substantially more executive authority to the Planning Commission (PC). “

Since last week’s meeting, the Braunhardts says they have heard from others in the community.

“I have been amazed at the emails and phone calls of support we have received in support. I don’t think the town has any idea how galvanized this community is.”

As for stepping down as mayor, Williams declined to comment. He did say he’s also received a good deal of support from the community.

Williams said the public does not have the right to criticize town staff for doing their jobs.

Both Williams and Councilman Milton Cook said they don’t ever recall an issue that has made council member and staff such targets of personal attacks.

 “Council members have been personally attacked and accused of wrongdoing,” said Cook. “There are right ways and wrong ways to address council and express opinions but when you are accusatory and automatically assume people are pushing the agenda, it is impossible not to take things personally.

“People have a right to speak their opinions … but they have to be responsible for what they say,” Cook said. “The first amendment works both ways.”

News editor Diana McFarland contributed to this report. {/mprestriction}