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“Vanishing” minutes: State audit details Plymouth’s issue with documenting council meetings

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 10:31 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2021 at 11:08 AM EDT
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PLYMOUTH, N.C. (WITN) - A town government here in the east is facing accusations it hasn’t been keeping proper record of some town council meetings.

Those findings come from State Auditor Beth Wood who said her office received eight allegations through its hotline concerning the Town of Plymouth.

The report said that Plymouth’s Town Council did not maintain meeting minutes for some of its meetings held during 2020.

“As a result, Town residents were not informed of Town Council’s discussions and actions. The town mayor was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support why the meeting minutes were missing and incomplete. However, state law requires public entities to maintain full and accurate minutes for all official meetings,” the report said.

According to the investigation, from January through December 2020, meeting minutes were not maintained for 32 of the 51 town council meetings.

“As a result of missing and incomplete meeting minutes, town residents were not informed on the discussions and actions taken by the Town Council. This increased the risk that actions not in the best interest of the town would go undetected,” the report states.

The report used as an example an allegedly discussed and approved moving allowance of $8,000 for the incoming interim town manager. However, the approval could not be verified due to the town not having the minutes of this meeting.

The audit said that the town’s mayor, Vershumn Hawkins, was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support why the minutes were missing and incomplete.

According to the audit, the mayor provided these excuses as to why they were missing or incomplete:

• Town clerk failed to complete her work - In 2020, the former town clerk had a backlog of work. This backlog caused the former town clerk not to complete the meeting minutes before her departure.

• Ransomware - In September 2020, the Town suffered a ransomware virus attack on its electronic system which caused a loss of data, including the meeting minutes. The mayor stated that the Town did not have a backup for their system.

• “Vanishing” minutes - In December 2020, meeting minutes went missing upon the departure of the former town clerk. The mayor stated, “I don’t have evidence of what I’m about to say, it’s just speculation. But we’ve had issues with our previous employed town clerk…and mysteriously upon her exiting, everything kind of vanished.”

The audit goes on to recommend that the town council and mayor should implement proper oversight procedures to ensure complete and accurate meeting minutes are maintained for all council meetings.

You can read the report in its entirety here.

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