With a looming payroll and key positions to process employee checks unfilled, the Local Government Commission (LGC) voted Wednesday to help the financially-struggling city of Spring Lake avoid payment processing issues. The commission was also told that Spring Lake’s attorney, Jonathan Charleston, had submitted his notice of resignation that day.
The meeting came a week after the release of a state audit that found more than half a million dollars in unwarranted and questionable spending and missing money in the Cumberland County town of 12,000 inhabitants, which has a current budget of $13 million. The audit also revealed a failure to conduct an adequate inventory of municipal vehicles to determine whether there was theft or misuse, and revealed incomplete or missing minutes of meetings of the College of Aldermen.
The LGC, chaired by State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell and made up of employees of the State and Local Government Finance Division (SLGFD) of the State Treasurer, took control of the finances of Spring Lake on October 5.
The commission has a legal duty to oversee the financial well-being of more than 1,100 local government units. Commission members took the rare step of confiscating Spring Lake’s books and records, assuming control of its finances, and supervising and directing all of its financial affairs due to fears the town was in danger of default. payment on nearly a quarter of a million dollars in debt from November 2021 service payments.
“We are pleased that the Local Government Commission was able to help Spring Lake resolve this payment processing situation,” Folwell said. “Employees, taxpayers and residents depend on their elected officials to know what is right, do it right and maintain it, and whenever we can assist a local government in this capacity, we are ready and willing. Our only objective is to save Spring Lake and prevent it from drowning.
Samantha Wullenwaber, who was supported by the LGC as the city’s deputy chief financial officer and acting city manager, was fired by the city on March 18, State Auditor Beth Wood told other members of the LGC. Wullenwaber had the authority to sign checks, and his abrupt dismissal left the city with limited options to perform this function. Wednesday’s LGC action should ensure that checks are sent on time.
Wullenwaber prepared a response to the state audit that met the criteria Wood said needed to explain how the issues arose, specify actions to be taken to respond to audit findings, identify who was responsible for the work and provide a timeline for completing milestones. The board of aldermen opted instead to submit a response from the city attorney, which Wood said was vague and misleading and failed to provide essential answers.
The LGC voted on Wednesday to retain David Erwin as the city’s chief financial officer and named Tiffany Anderson and Susan McCullen as deputy chief financial officers. All three are employees of the SLGFD. Erwin was retained as signatory of the account. Anderson and McCullen were also named account signatories. Wullenwaber, former mayor Larry Dobbins and former pro tem mayor Taimoor Aziz were removed from the accounts as they are no longer in office.
In its letter to Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony on Wednesday, Charleston expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with the council of aldermen, saying, “While we have worked with the city through several challenges, we believe that the time has come to move on to a new lawyer. His law firm has a contractual obligation to give 30 days’ notice to terminate its agreement, but Charleston said “we can accept an earlier departure with the express consent of the city.”
Spring Lake is one of eight local government units for which the LGC has assumed financial control. The others are Kingstown (Cleveland County), Spencer Mountain (Gaston County), Robersonville (Martin County), Cliffside Sanitary District (Rutherford County), East Laurinburg (Scotland County), and Eureka and Pikeville (Wayne County). ).