The mayor wants everybody to calm down.
Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears and Town Manager Charles Simmons made a public request Tuesday for residents to be civil when it comes to town matters.
The request came after Sears said he and other members of the Town Council were the targets of “abusive comments and name calling” on social media.
Residents have strongly opposed a developer’s plan to build 610 homes near Holly Springs High School, saying it would exacerbate the town’s traffic woes.
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In front of a standing room-only crowd March 7, the council voted 3-2 to rezone roughly 230 acres along Honeycutt Road to make way for the project.
“One of our town council members was at a soccer game two weeks ago and a guy in the stands said, ‘You’re a jerk, you’re a this, you’re a that.’ And another person said, ‘No she isn’t,’ and they almost came to blows,” Sears said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s not only Holly Springs where this kind of thing happens, but right now, we’re leading the pack.”
Some residents unhappy with town leaders’ decision said criticism is warranted.
“Elected officials are beholden to their constituents, and harsh criticism should be expected when you blindly ignore the will of the people,” Holly Springs resident Giorgio Galente wrote in an email.
“There were six months of town council meetings where many concerned, dedicated citizens took time out of their busy schedules to impress upon the town council and planning board that the Honeycutt development, as written, was not in the best interest of this community and of the town,” he added. “It made absolutely no difference.”
Carolyn Bryant of Holly Springs agrees.
“The town council meetings are now heavily attended,” Bryant wrote in an email. “This should indicate to town council that the people are frustrated and want to stop development until infrastructure can catch up. This falls on deaf ears. These development votes have been added to the agenda at the last minute in attempt to pull one over on the residents.”
Some leaders of other towns, including those in Apex and Cary, remind meeting attendees not to applaud or make comments from their seats. When people do applaud or speak out of turn, they are typically reprimanded.
In Holly Springs, though, it tends to pass without comment. Recently, packed audiences applauded and cheered when they agreed – and hissed and jeered when they disagreed.
Sears said it’s his management style to let people express themselves.
“I’ve tried that – it doesn’t work so good,” he said of attempts to encourage quiet in the council chambers. “If they applaud, I let it go. After 30 seconds, I’ll put my hands up in the air, and they’re pretty respectful of that. I think our meetings are a little more casual than some other meetings, and that’s me. That’s what I want. It’s my style.”
Sears said he respects the public’s right to disagree with him and other council members, but name-calling crosses the line.
“If someone has a problem, I don’t care if you call or come to my office,” he said. “Come rant and rave. That’s fine. But don’t do it behind my back on the internet and hide behind social media.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Sears said elected leaders might not always vote the way residents want them to on every issue.
“Their job is to represent the town as best they can, and that’s not always a popular decision,” he said.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan