Pilot Board to recalibrate prayer policy

By Bill Colvard - bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com

The Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners quickly took care of business Monday evening at its July meeting, getting through the public portion of the meeting in a half-hour, the only surprise being the way the meeting started and what happened after.

Instead of beginning the meeting with prayer, as is his custom, Mayor Dwight Atkins asked for a moment of silence, saying, “We can’t do it as we’ve been doing it.”

In a letter to the board from town attorney Ed Woltz dated July 6, Woltz had informed the board of recent rulings on the subject of prayers at governmental meetings, “Even with all the recent decisions on the topic, many questions remain unanswered and probably will remain unanswered until a fact-specific issue is litigated.”

Woltz recommended in his letter that the “town consider taking advantage of the Alliance Defending Freedom for Faith and Justice to develop an invocation policy that would pass muster and be subject to free legal defense if constitutionally challenged.”

The organization, a legal ministry, cobbled together a strategy in 2015 so that public prayers could be offered without fear of prosecution, and offers a free legal defense to entities working cooperatively with it.

When Mayor Atkins asked for any public comments from the floor, Gary Marshall asked about the New River Tire situation.

“We’ve retained legal counsel, and we can’t speak on it,” said Commissioner Kim Quinn.

“And that would include holding a public hearing,” added the town attorney.

A public hearing to discuss nuisance complaints was scheduled by the board for June 19 and then abruptly postponed.

“The board must act in public, and anything they do will be done in a public meeting,” Boaz attempted to reassure Marshall. Boaz suggested Marshall have his name added to the list of people who are notified of board activity.

“Holding a public hearing seemed reasonable before we engaged legal counsel, who told us it was premature,” said Woltz.

“I respect that, but I don’t understand the complexity of it,” said Marshall.

“We didn’t either, at first,” Atkins told him.

The other surprise development didn’t happen until after the board returned from closed session, when they approved a motion to extend the town’s agreement with Elastrix and the state.

According to Town Manager Michael Boaz, the issue regards a grant from the Department of Commerce to Elastrix which required they produce a certain number of jobs, and gave them $10,000 per job. But Elastrix was unable to keep its end of the deal, and the money must be paid back.

But the town received the Commerce Department grant, and passed it on to the company, so now the town is on the hook for the funds.

“We have the deed of trust for the building,” said Boaz, “so when it’s sold, we’re first in line to get our money back. This gives them a year to sell the building. This is the second or third time we’ve extended it.”

Boaz said the extension will prevent the town from having to reimburse the Department of Commerce about $250,000 before getting the money from Elastrix.

In other town business, ABC board chairman Billy Pell reported that the ABC store brought in revenues of $92,196 in June, up 17 percent from June 2017 when revenue was $76,663.

After having the board request more price quotes on maintaining its two water tanks at their June meeting, Town Manager Boaz was unable to come up with additional quotes. There are only two other companies who do that sort of work, he said and they both declined to quote. One did not give a reason, and the other said it’s a small account to be so far away. (They are located in South Dakota.)

So the commissioners went back to the two price quotes from June and awarded the contract to American Tank Maintenance.

The first budget amendment of the new fiscal year re-appropriated some unspent money left over from the previous year. It was approved unanimously.

The first resolution of the year involved digital payouts which the town has been using without clear authority to do so, though Mayor Dwight Atkins noted no one ever said they couldn’t be done.

The General Assembly recently authorized using digital payout methods and the first step toward being in compliance was to pass a resolution. The Board did so.

The Board also revised their purchasing policy to bring it into compliance with recent federal changes. Current rules are crafted around state guidelines, said Boaz, and the new policy will marry state and federal guidelines and be compliant regardless of which one applies to any given project.

In his manager’s report, Boaz said the Pilot Mountain Pig Out food truck festival cleared $500 after expenses were paid, which he said was good for a first time. He estimated a couple of thousand people attended the event, maybe as many as 4,000. He said 400 beer cups were sold at $5 apiece. He then announced upcoming events before the next meeting.

The board will meet for a work session on Tuesday, July 17, at 6 p.m.


By Bill Colvard


Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.