Bob Scott is seeking his third term as mayor of Franklin, and it’s his second time running unopposed for the job.
Franklin Mayor Bob Scott will help lead a new organization of North Carolina mayors dedicated to improving life in all the state’s municipalities by focusing public attention on finding solutions to critical issues.
Sometimes in the world of journalism, the story becomes more about the reaction than the original news event. By my estimation, that’s what’s going on right with Franklin Mayor Bob Scott and his decision to put his hand on the Constitution instead of the Bible when getting sworn in for his second term.
Scott is one of those small-town politicians who seems to come to public service naturally. He is a former alderman, has led the local chamber of commerce and the Rotary Club. He’s been a journalist and a public affairs officer who believes passionately in open government. He’s retired, but from what I’ve seen he works nearly all the time as chief cheerleader and advocate for his adopted hometown.
Public officials aren’t required to place their hand on a Bible to be sworn into office, but a majority of them still do.
In the last couple of weeks, Franklin Mayor Bob Scott has been called un-American, arrogant and an asshole, but he’s taking it in stride knowing he made a decision based on his conscience and not on fear.
Running unopposed for his second term, Franklin Mayor Bob Scott hopes to continue on his path toward a more open and accessible government while leading the town for the next two years.
By Bob Scott • Guest Columnist
In a letter to the editor published in the Nov. 5 edition of The Smoky Mountain News, Rachel Truesdell wrote that as mayor, I “have a lot of explaining to do because most of the arguments in the media from the Town of Franklin are horribly invalid and definitely culturally insensitive.” She was speaking of the Nikwasi Mound.
Jake Flannick • SMN Correspondent
He campaigned on the promise of making Franklin fertile ground for new ideas and encouraging more openness and transparency in government.
Franklin Alderman Bob Scott recused himself from the vote on a special use permit for a Wal-Mart Supercenter this week after conducting an online survey on the issue. Town Attorney John Henning said he believed the survey compromised Scott’s impartiality, citing state statutes that govern the procedures for quasi-judicial public hearings.
The pertinent passage in G.S. 160A-388 says that “impermissible conflicts include, but are not limited to, a member having a fixed opinion prior to hearing the matter that is not susceptible to change.”
Kim Hibbard, general counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities, said determining whether Scott had compromised his impartiality was ultimately a judgment call.
“Are they really impartial? Have they fixed their opinion already? Have they been getting communications from one side or the other?” Hibbard said. “That’s where you would need to make your judgment, whether the actions fall into that category.”
Scott said his survey was an attempt to gain perspective on the public’s opinion.
“All I was trying to do before all this came up was just find out how people felt. I wasn’t trying to make a determination of whether it was a pro or con, I was trying to feel what the feeling of the public was,” Scott said.
Scott also questioned whether the other aldermen were impartial, adding that it seemed they all had their minds made up which way they were going to vote prior to the meeting.
He did confirm that he would have voted against granting the special use permit had he been allowed to vote.
“I am concerned. If we have this ordinance then allow variances because it is Wal-Mart, is that fair? Why do we have the ordinance if we are going to grant exceptions?” Scott said.
Scott’s public survey had 329 respondents. Over 75 percent of them were in favor of the Wal-Mart. Over 80 percent had a favorable opinion of the company. Perhaps the most interesting response to the survey showed that 40 percent of the respondents thought the public should have a say in the store’s design scheme.
By Bob Scott • Guest Columnist
A municipality would never think of electing a chief of police. But in North Carolina, sheriffs are elected like a high school popularity contest. When I tell people there are no qualifications required to run for sheriff, they are amazed.
Anyone can be elected sheriff without ever having completed first grade — although it’s not likely. A sheriff does not have to complete basic law enforcement training or have any law enforcement experience. This issue has surfaced again with the incident involving Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran.
Media reports say Cochran has had no law enforcement experience nor has he undergone basic law enforcement training. (The Smoky Mountain News, Jan. 21-26)
It is time for counties to do away with this archaic office bound by tradition and transfer the law enforcement function to professionals hired by and answerable to a commission or other oversight body. A county could still have an elected sheriff, who would be responsible for the jail, court security and civil process. The law enforcement function would be taken over by county police headed by an appointed chief. This would take partisan politics out of the law enforcement function, bring professionalism to the office, and establish accountability to the public.
Presently, the only control county commissioners have over a sheriff is his/her budget. Otherwise, the sheriff is not answerable to anyone for four years until he/she has to answer to the public at election time. Unfortunately, without any oversight, the public is often unaware of a sheriff’s effectiveness.
One argument to keep the office of sheriff is that it is the only office mentioned in the North Carolina Constitution. However, there is no mention in the constitution of the sheriff having law enforcement powers or protecting life and property.
Just for argument’s sake, here is a sampling of requirements some small towns are requiring in current advertisements for police chiefs:
• Archdale (Pop. 9,900) Bachelor’s degree. MA preferred in criminal justice related fields, advanced law enforcement certificate, high-level supervision experience.
• Mount Gilead (Pop. 1,389) Associate’s degree and minimum of three years experience.
• Erwin (Pop. 4,770) Must have thorough knowledge of law enforcement practices, procedures, requirements and working knowledge of administrative principles, finance, accounting and computers.
Another difference between a municipal police department and a sheriff’s office is that a sheriff may swear in a deputy. This allows that deputy to carry a badge and gun with powers of arrest for a year before attending Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET). Currently BLET is over 600 contact hours and is generally taught through the community college system. A municipality may not put a police officer on patrol with arrest powers until that officer has completed state mandated BLET. Other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies do not give an officer power of arrest until they successfully complete required training.
It is a common practice across North Carolina for sheriffs to fire and/or demote deputies who do not actively support their election. So if a deputy disagrees with a sheriff, he can lose his job for political reasons. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld this draconian practice. What other law enforcement or governmental agency can be so unreasonable in dealing with employees without due process?
It is time for North Carolina counties to establish county police departments, or at the least give deputies some form of civil service job protection and a grievance procedure overseen by neutral and objective persons. Sheriffs should have to abide by the same personnel regulations as other law enforcement agencies.
Many deputies loyal to the criminal justice system have had their careers cut short because of politics. Loyalty to the sheriff is seen as more important than loyalty to the criminal justice system and the public. When sheriffs demote or fire well trained and experienced officers, the taxpayers lose as well as the officers.
Another problem with the office of sheriff is the cost of the political campaign. The public should be concerned that sheriffs, unlike police chiefs or other law enforcement officials, become obligated to campaign contributors. The sheriff’s race is often the most expensive local race.
It hasn’t been too many years ago that the law was changed to require district attorneys to be lawyers and most counties have now done away with elected coroners in favor of medical examiners. Several counties have opted for county police. So there is precedent for counties to consider a move to county police.