Landis aldermen deny selections for Passive Park Committee over process, approve request for additional police officer
By Natalie Anderson
LANDIS — Town aldermen on Monday voted against selections for the recently formed Passive Park Blue Ribbon Committee while voting in support of granting an additional police officer position for the Public Safety department.
In July, discussions began of forming a committee to work toward constructing a passive park. Landis acquired from longtime residents D.C. and Frances Linn six lots located on the east side of U.S. 29 after their deaths in 2009. The Linn family had a longtime dream of creating a passive park in the town, which is similar to a typical neighborhood park, but it includes features such as benches, picnic areas, gardens and walking trails.
The town has since reviewed at least a dozen applications among residents interested in serving. In addition to Mayor Meredith Smith, alderwoman Katie Sells and Parks and Recreation Director Jessica Stamper, Town Manager Diane Seaford brought forward a list of selected Landis residents including Ben Smagacz, Shelly Morgan, Megan Cleveland, Shasta Dease, Pamela Urban and John Hall. Another to-be-named staff member will also serve.
Seaford said the selection was random from the pool of applicants. Resident and regular meeting attendee Nadine Cherry expressed concern during the public comment period about the selection process since she applied but wasn’t selected.
“When I say randomly, I mean, literally, we wrote (their names) on pieces of paper, put them in a bag and drew them out,” Seaford said. “I had (Human Resources Officer/Town Clerk Amber Levi) present to make sure that everyone was included and that there was no discrepancy in who was picked. I also want to reiterate that just because you were not selected to be on the official committee does not mean that there’s not an opportunity for you to participate.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ashley Stewart asked whether any applications were submitted past the deadline, which was set for the Friday before the Aug. 9 meeting, and Levi said they were all submitted in time. In addition to Cherry, applicants who weren’t selected include Ryan Nelms, Kerri Corbit, Amanda Przybyszewski, Tobitha Stewart and Summer Faw.
Alderman Tony Corriher joined Stewart in voting against the measure, while Sells and alderman Darrell Overcash voted in support of the selections. Smith cast the tie-breaking vote against the measure.
“I am very disappointed with this board about the Passive Park just because your worker bees or a family member wasn’t chosen,” Sells said during board comments at the end of the meeting. “I was looking forward to working with these people. They might have totally different ideas. We should give people ideas or give them a chance to work with us.”
Also during the meeting, Seaford emphasized the need to hire an additional police officer for the town per request from Public Safety Director Zachary Lechette. Seaford said the department is down one position due to an injury, and another officer has not yet been released from training. Additionally, the department anticipates losing another officer for a different career opportunity.
Seaford said it will likely be December when a new officer is hired as the vetting process is longer than a typical town employee position, and another three months before the officer can be cleared to begin patrolling the town. The department currently has 11 full-time officers, including Lechette and Assistant Public Safety Director Kevin Young. Lechette said the department is short two officers who would normally help cover all shifts, and he and Young stepping in to help has limited their ability for other responsibilities.
Sells said she’s witnessed only one officer working the night shift alone several times, and feels the new position is needed.
Corriher said he’s not anti-police or anti-fire, but he didn’t want to see the town in a position like it was years ago when some officers were sitting around the office despite a request for more patrol officers.
“I think there could be some dual purposes maybe with the people that’s on the staff now,” Corriher said. “I’d like to see more utilization of the people we have now.”
Corriher added that he’d like to see more help from the county, but Lechette insisted the county assists anytime Landis needs it.
Lechette said the department responded to 13,975 calls for service in 2020 compared to 3,847 in 2015, just before the town decreased the number of positions in the subsequent fiscal year budgets. When considering department savings, Lechette said he estimates that the town would only need $13,000 to fund the remaining salary and benefits if a new officer begins halfway through the fiscal year in December or January. Additionally, the department would still be operating with 11 officers as one remains out for an injury.
Lechette requested two additional police positions in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget, but it was not included. Seaford said the current budget has seen some savings from the officer who is out on an injury and a new officer with less experience and a smaller salary than the officer they replaced. She suggested the town fund the position with those savings, but reminded them of a full allotment needed in future fiscal year budgets.
The vote was unanimously in favor of funding the additional position after Corriher said “I’m not going to be the lone wolf, so I’ll go for it.”
Board members also met in a closed session after the meeting to discuss a potential economic development and a personnel matter. After the closed session, board members voted to conduct a six-month performance review of Seaford and increase her salary by 3%. When hired, her salary was approved for $95,000.
In other items at the meeting:
• Town aldermen approved a request from The Brook Ministries, Inc. to change the zoning of its properties located at 2290 Highway 29 and 2170 Highway 29 from “U.S. Highway 29 Commercial District” to “Civic” zoning. At the July 13 Planning Board meeting, members approved the rezoning of 2290 U.S. 29 but voted to keep the parcel located at 2170 U.S. 29 zoned “U.S. Highway 29 Commercial District” because it is not consistent with the recently adopted 2040 Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The issue was tabled at the Aug. 9 town aldermen meeting, and both properties have since been combined, allowing for the “civic” designation under the town’s 2040 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
• Town aldermen voted to hold a public hearing on Oct. 11 to consider a request for annexation into the town’s limits. The request comes from Frances Balsamo and Mark Haskell, owners of a 0.6-acre property located at 109 East 31st St. in Kannapolis.
• Town aldermen voted to include a policy into the recently adopted Land Development Ordinance that provides for managing utility allocations and extension in an effort to help with future development.
• The town approved changing its website’s domain from “.com” to “.gov,” meaning it will now be townoflandisNC.gov.
• The town approved a new alcohol and substance abuse policy, in addition to a town employee performance review cycle.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.