We are cautiously wading into Talking Rock’s emerging feud between two council members and the mayor and town clerk with an appeal for both sides to find some middle ground.
A brief and not fully objective synopsis of the problem: Talking Rock is one of the most scenic small towns anywhere. It is an absolutely blessed time capsule with a creek on one side and a line of historic buildings on the other.
It remained a sleepy little town with a population somewhere around 80 until the town’s power duo, Mayor Randy Banks and town clerk Cheryl Sams, hit upon the idea of renovating some old train cars on the edge of their park. Banks and Sams, real life brother and sister, have led the town for the past 25 years and done most of the work there.
The town wouldn’t be recognized today if Sams hadn’t stepped up in the 1990s to see they provided enough services to meet the state criteria for an official town. The town’s Heritage Days festival and much smaller Christmas program are the handiwork of Sams.
Banks, as mayor and paid handyman, gets out early to check the park bathrooms and make sure the gate is open or closed when needed.
When people think political power, the image of a mayor taking out the trash is not what comes to mind.
The town and the county owe a lot to this brother and sister.
But, the brother and sister owe a lot to the town and the county as well. The town has entrusted them with the town’s finances and plans.
The problem that has arisen is new residents are in the town and new businesses and potential sources of new revenue. For this you need oversight, transparency and formal procedures.
Tony Hawf, who serves on the council and is a part owner of Talking Rock Brewery, and fellow council member James Bryant Jr. want to see the finances add up correctly. This is not some petty desire. If you are elected to a town council, one of your duties is to keep an eye on the budget. The council members are doing their duty in asking for a special meeting to sort out the books.
The financial reports have gone unapproved for the last couple of months as the council apparently lacks confidence in the numbers presented. Hawf and Bryant have said they aren’t accusing Banks and Sams of anything other than poor record keeping. But that is enough.
The records need to be correct and this issue settled. If it takes a special meeting (as the council members sought), then that is something the town needs to do.
But as they start digging into the numbers, let’s all keep in mind the scope of the town’s work/finances. Talking Rock recently doubled their property tax revenue. It went from $4,000 to an expected $8,000 a year. There are other state funds but in reality Talking Rock’s budget is more similar to a large civic club than a municipality. For most of the past 140 years since Talking Rock was founded, the vast majority of its business centered on maintaining their park – nothing elaborate but a nice civic cause. However, this gets more complicated in that Banks does most of the work in town and is paid for it. The council, without bids or even written proposals, agreed to pay him $800 for some electrical work as part of a very heated August meeting.
That kind of informal deal-making won’t fly any longer, as the town has added new businesses and presumably more tax dollars, possibly forthcoming sewage operations.
We’d suggest getting the finances squared away to move forward without continued squabbling over past record small ticket items.
The small town is experiencing growing pains, but nothing that some cooperation won’t solve.
Talking Rock has laid down a fabulous base to make their downtown a prime attraction, now they just need to figure out how to manage their success.