Letter – ‘New low’ for council

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

The Smithfield Town Council meeting on June 4 set a new low for this council. The meeting video is a must-watch for all who care about the town and recognize critical issues with its governance.

The back story (reported prior to the meeting by The Smithfield Times) is that Mayor Steve Bowman provided council members information in two letters:

  1. One noting he had traveled to Florida, stayed with Joe Luter III and received information about a generous offer of $6 million if the council would vote to match that donation. He noted he would introduce the topic under “Council Comments,” which follow “Citizen Comments.” The mayor further noted that he, as mayor, could not make the motion to accept this offer.  
  2. Bowman’s letter to Luter thanking him for the “generous gift” and identifying the areas in which he understood the funding would be used.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Given the voting patterns of newly appointed council members Jim Collins and Raynard Gibbs, voting history of Mayor Bowman and Councilwoman Valerie Butler related to the Grange, and financial interest Councilman Randy Pack has in the Grange, citizens recognized that once the mayor introduced the topic of the “generous gift” from Mr. Luter, a vote to accept the offer and commit taxpayer money would most likely be made during this meeting.  

Thanks to the Times story prior to the meeting, 15 citizens expressed concerns. Over 20 citizens stood when one speaker asked those opposed to stand. They aired concerns about up to 6 million additional tax dollars and lack of transparency.

In response, council members Collins, Butler and Gibbs addressed their major concern: that someone on the council must have “leaked” the documents (public records). They didn’t address concerns voiced by citizens. Asking your constituents about an upcoming matter or vote, and allowing citizens to review what are public records are GOOD practices.

After the three spoke against the “leak,” it was Bowman’s turn to chastise those who spoke against this most recent example of his lack of transparency. If you don’t watch anything else in the meeting video, that section is extraordinary.  

Transparency builds trust. What breaks down trust is the appearance of staging meetings to look like you haven’t discussed or committed to votes previously.

There are four open council seats on the ballot in November. There is a slate of candidates who believe in transparency and citizen input.  


Leah Walker