The Board of Commissioners of the Town of Angier, North Carolina
Prepared by Robert J. Higdon, Jr.
Williams Mullen Clark & Dobbins
301 Fayetteville Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Executive SummaryThe law firm of Williams Mullen Clark & Dobbins P.C. (“Williams Mullen” or the “Firm”) was engaged to gather and review evidence concerning issues addressed in the January 3, 2017 Censure Resolution adopted by the Angier Board of Commissioners (the “Board”) against Mayor Lewis Weatherspoon. That investigation has now been completed and the firm, as counsel to the Board, has concluded the following: 1. Mayor Weatherspoon incorrectly reported the vote tally on December 6, 2016 during a Board vote to fill a vacant seat on the Town’s Planning Board and he improperly accused a fellow Commissioner of altering the physical ballots subsequent to the vote; there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the Mayor’s actions were an intentional effort to obstruct the majority decision of the Board to appoint a particular candidate to the Planning Board; 2. Mayor Weatherspoon has regularly and repeatedly interfered in the day-to-day operations of the Town of Angier and has both exceeded his own statutory rights and responsibilities and has invaded the statutory rights and responsibilities of the Town Manager to oversee those daily operations; the Mayor’s actions have impeded the proper functioning of Town offices and has placed the Mayor and the Town in compromising positions relative to Departmental oversight and in the honest and transparent conduct of Town business; 3. Mayor Weatherspoon has complied with the Censure Resolution and has vacated his Town Hall office, has surrendered any papers and records he maintained privately in that office, and has refrained from continued interference in the daily operations of the Town following imposition of the Censure; 4. At present there are no “further improper acts” by the Mayor which require a decision by the Board to seek to remove the Mayor from office. The Firm has provided the Board with a complete factual and legal analysis of these issues in the form of this report and further recommends that the Board not proceed with a petition to remove the Mayor from office at this time, and on these facts.
Scope of EngagementWilliams Mullen Clark & Dobbins P.C. (“Williams Mullen” or the “Firm”) has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Town of Angier (the “Town”) as outside counsel in a wide range of matters. This relationship has provided, we believe, an important addition to the services provided by the Town Attorney. Frequently law firms are retained and engaged by municipal corporations and governing bodies in order to deepen the level of expertise and to augment the resources available to the corporation or body through the Town Attorney. On March 7, 2017 the Board of Commissioners of the Town of Angier (the “Board”) engaged Williams Mullen to act as outside counsel with respect to facts and circumstances generally outlined in the Board’s January 3, 2017 censure of Mayor Lewis W. Weatherspoon, as well as events following the censure. See, Exhibit A, Engagement Letter. Specifically, the Firm was enaged to: provide an independent, neutral, outside investigation into: (1) the specific facts and circumstances that were previously generally outlined in the ‘Resolution Censuring Mayor Lewis W. Weatherspoon,’ (the ‘Resolution’) unanimously adopted by the Town Board of Commissioners (the ‘Board’) on January 3, 2017; and (2) the specific facts, circumstances and conduct of relevant personnel since the adoption of the Resolution (collectively, the ‘investigation’). Exhibit A at 1. The engagement letter between the Board and Williams Mullen further defined the scope of the investigation as limited to: a. Interviewing fact witnesses identified by the Town, including current and former Town employees; b. Collecting evidence from witnesses with relevant knowledge; c. Preparing summaries of witness interviews and evidenced obtained through the Investigation; d. Presenting the factual findings and information obtained during the investigation to the Board in the form of a written or oral report, or a combination of both, for the Board to consider as its deems fit; and e. Providing such other allied and related services as may be necessary to competently and objectively conduct the investigation. Id. The attorney designated as the primary individual to lead the inquiry is Robert J. Higdon, Jr., a partner in and co-chairman of Williams Mullen’s Investigations Group. Mr. Higdon served for nearly 24 years as a federal prosecutor in the Western and Eastern Districts of North Carolina as well as in other federal districts around the United States. Mr. Higdon has substantial experience in questioning witnesses and in conducting investigations in order to completely and objectively present evidence to tribunals, courts and governing bodies. Importantly, prior to engagement of the Firm in this matter, Mr. Higdon did not know any member of the Angier Board of Commissioners, did not know Mayor Weatherspoon, did not know the Town Manager and had never met any of the Town’s employees. Moreover, Mr. Higdon was not familiar with the issues which have arisen in Angier relative to Town governance or which were committed to Williams Mullen for investigation under this engagement. Finally, Mr. Higdon is not a resident of the Town of Angier.
MethodologyThe Engagement Letter between the Town and Williams Mullen clearly contemplates that the Town is the Firm’s client1 and that the scope of the engagement may only be expanded if “specifically authorized by the Board.” Id. at page 1, paragraph 4. Thus, the Firm’s investigation has been conducted on behalf of the Town and the Board of Commissioners.2 Consistent with the terms of the written Engagement Letter, the Firm focused its investigation on the issues outlined in the January 3 Censure Resolution. These issues include: 1) the facts and circumstances surrounding the Board’s December 6, 2016 vote to fill a vacant seat on the Town’s Planning Board; 2) information and evidence concerning allegations that the Mayor has interfered with and disregarded the Town’s council-manager form of Government in the ways enumerated in the Censure Resolution; 3) whether the Mayor has complied with the limitations and directives concerning his conduct as set forth in the Censure Resolution; and 4) whether any “further improper acts” by the Mayor would support a decision by the Board to remove the Mayor from office. In order to conduct it’s investigation the Firm relied on the Town – generally through the Town Manager – to identify and produce witnesses who were believed to have information relevant to these issues as required by the terms of the Engagement Letter.3 Each witness was interviewed separately at the Town Hall or in the Raleigh offices of Williams Mullen by the undersigned. Each interview was memorialized in notes prepared by the undersigned and each witness was given warnings commonly referred to as Upjohn warnings.4 The Firm also interviewed a small number of comparative witnesses – those who can provide credible, relevant insight into the manner in which a council-manager form of government should function. These subject matter experts were utilized to provide a measuring stick against which the conduct of the Mayor and other city officials might be evaluated. These experts were also consulted as to possible solutions for the problems identified. It is important to note that individual members of the Board of were not interviewed as part of this investigation. Their conduct is not a matter falling within the scope of the engagement. It also did not appear to the undersigned that any commissioner possessed personal knowledge of any of these matters and which was not available to the undersigned from some other source, with the exception of the facts and circumstances surrounding the vote to seat a new member of the Town Planning Board. In that instance, it is clear that each member of the Board could theoretically speak to the question of who they voted for and that Commissioner Honeycutt could respond to allegations that he altered the ballots. Those issues, however, are addressed sufficiently by looking at the original ballots themselves and by listening to the recording of the December 8, 2016 meeting between the Mayor, the Town Manager, Commissioner Honeycutt and the leadership of certain Town Departments. Finally, and most importantly, should the Board of Commissioners attempt to remove the Mayor via the Amotion process, they themselves are the trier of fact in that process. Therefore, as a legal and practical matter Board members cannot and/or should not also act as fact witnesses in any such Amotion proceeding. Mayor Weatherspoon asked for and was afforded the opportunity to speak with the undersigned during the course of this investigation. By letter dated March 9, 2017 the Mayor, through his attorney, asked to meet with the undersigned “early” in the process. See Exhibit B. Undersigned counsel, however, chose to formally interview the Mayor after all other witnesses had been interviewed in order to allow a more fulsome discussion of issues with the Mayor at the appropriate time. That decision was communicated to the Mayor’s counsel on March 9 as well. See Exhibit C. Ultimately the Mayor and his attorney met with the undersigned attorney on April 24, 2017. The Mayor responded to all questions put to him by the undersigned and he was given the opportunity to make any statement he wished to make concerning any of the issues entrusted to Williams Mullen through the engagement letter.
Angier’s Council-Manager Form of Government
Background and TimelineAs noted above, Mayor Weatherspoon commenced elected public service in 2013 when he ran for and was elected to a four-year term on the Town’s Board of Commissioners. In 2015, he challenged the incumbent Mayor and was elected to a four-year term in that office. Throughout 2016, tensions between the Mayor, the Board of Commissioners, the Town Manager and the permanent employees of the Town grew and began to affect the delivery of Town services. Those tensions culminated in the adoption of a Resolution of Censure against the Mayor on January 3, 2017 by the Board of Commissioners. The Censure Resolution, a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit E, first recites several basic principles governing and defining the roles of the Town Board, the Mayor and the Town Manager. Exhibit E at page 1. Most importantly, the resolution reaffirms the Board’s commitment to the council-manager form of government as authorized in the Town’s Charter. Id. To that end, the resolution acknowledges that the Town Manager is responsible for administering all Town affairs, including the direction of all departments, offices and agencies of the Town, subject to the general direction and control of the Board. Id. The resolution then recites the ways in which the Board found the Mayor to have violated the principles of council-manager government and lists concerns about the manner in which the Mayor has executed specific duties associated with his position. The resolution criticized the Mayor for: - calling for a secret ballot for the election to fill a vacant seat on the Town’s Planning Board and “substitut the vote a tie” - interfering with the council-manager form of government by: - maintaining a private office at Town Hall; - maintaining public records in Town Hall under lock and key without providing access to same to the Town Clerk; - interrupting and interjecting himself into personnel and administrative meetings; - directing citizens to bring routine matters normally directed to Town administration directly to him; - unnecessarily and improperly involving himself in the day-to-day routine business at Town Hall which has impeded the efficient administration of Town business and created an environment of uncertainty and instability for Town Staff; - directly questioned employees regarding job performance and attendance, bypassing the Town Manager, and with disregard for Town personnel procedures. Id. at 1-2. The resolution then censured the Mayor “in the strongest terms” and directed that he must observe all statutory requirements for the conduct of meetings, shall maintain the integrity of Board votes and shall respect the clear direction of the Board. Id. at 2. The Mayor was further directed to vacate his office in the Town Hall and to surrender all public records in his position to the Town Clerk. Id. Finally, the Mayor was directed to observe and abide by the council-manager form of government and to avoid any interference in the daily administration of Town business. Id. And, finally, the Board reserved the right to seek the Mayor’s removal from office if it found there to be any “further improper action.” Id. at 3. The Mayor acknowledged and signed the Censure Resolution. The Board engaged Williams Mullen on or about March 7, 2017, as a followup to the Censure Resolution, for the purposes outlined above.