After the Weddington Town Council adjourned its special meeting April 28, Weddington resident Mary Ann DeSimone walked up to Mayor Bill Deter and tossed a black bag of coins on the table in front of him.
Angered by the council’s 2-1 vote to end its 10-year contract with the Providence Volunteer Fire Department, DeSimone told Deter the bag contained “30 pieces of silver,” for what she considered to be his betrayal of Weddington’s residents.
“We fully expected the mayor to do exactly what he did,” DeSimone said. She then explained she had planned her response by putting 30 nickels in a cloth bag.
The vote to end the contract with PVFD was immediately followed by a vote to instruct the town’s attorney, Anthony Fox, to draw up an agreement with Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department to provide service to Weddington when the cancellation with PVFD takes effect this summer.
After the meeting, PVFD Board Chairman Jack Parks said by terminating the fire service agreement, the town has “broken a contract without cause, and PVFD will pursue any remedies that the law allows.”
The overflow crowd at the council meeting – many people standing outside opened doors to hear the proceedings – was filled with PVFD supporters. Many applauded comments made by council member Pamela Hadley supporting the PVFD and some of them audibly disagreed with statements by the mayor and council members Barbara Harrison and Michael Smith.
At the beginning of the meeting, Deter asked some of them to leave so the building would have only 42 people, which he said was the limit set by the county fire marshal.
“Why don’t you reschedule?” called a woman from the audience.
“Because the meeting is scheduled and this is what we’re doing.” Deter said.
“We formally asked to move to a larger venue and you refused,” called a man from the audience. “These people want to hear what you have to say. You obviously made a big mistake.”
Deter decided to allow the meeting. He started with some background, saying PVFD had a projected $71,000 budget deficit and their funds would be exhausted before the end of the fiscal year. Deter said said requests for information from PVFD did not address loss of territory and revenue from Mecklenburg County or where they will be in the next two to three years.
PVFD covers portions of Mecklenburg County that are being annexed into Charlotte, he said.
Weddington’s 10-year contract with PVFD penalizes Weddington $750,000 if the town terminates its contract with the fire department “for other than cause or mutual consent,” according to documents on the town’s website.
A letter to PVFD by Fox said the town would have cause to terminate the contract unless Providence can provide adequate assurances of its ability to meet its obligations.
The letter, dated April 15, gave the department 10 business days to respond.
PVFD’s response was in two large, red binders Deter set on the table. He said “most of the information contained in these binders is not relevant to the town’s request or has been seen by the town council before.”
He did not refer to a letter from PVFD attorney Robert Henderson that accompanied the response. The letter said “PVFD is quite stable financially as reflected in the most recent audit.”
Henderson’s letter also said “It is, at the least, ironic that the mayor and some members of Council claim PVFD to be financially unstable – thereby providing a purported contractual ‘cause’ for the Town to terminate the FSA without financial consequence – in the face of these facts and knowing full well that the funding of PVFD is substantially controlled by the Town. This strategy is not only disingenuous, it is contrary to law and will fail.”
Deter did not vote on Harrison’s motion to “dissolve” the fire service agreement with PVFD because, as mayor, he votes only to break a tie.
Harrison and Smith voted for the motion and Hadley opposed it. Mayor Pro Tem Don Titherington, who sided with Hadley on a similar PVFD-related vote April 13, was not present.
The motion to ask the attorney to draw up an agreement with WCVFD also passed 2-1, with Hadley opposing.
Before the votes, Hadley offered reasons the town should continue its relationship with PVFD, saying the change could cause home insurance rates to go up and the quality of fire and emergency service to go down.
She asked two people who’d traveled to the meeting from the Office of the State Fire Marshal in Raleigh to answer her questions and any questions from the council. They were Davie Summey, inspections supervisor, and Chet Hill, a fire rating inspector.
Deter struck his gavel twice and said, “This isn’t a public hearing,” and he wouldn’t allow Summey and Hill to speak.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.