Cooleemee resident asks board member to resign

Published 3:10 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

COOLEEMEE – A new mayor and two new members on the town board here had barely been sworn into office when they heard pleas from residents for one of the board members to resign.

At the beginning of the November meeting, new mayor, Jeff Smith, was sworn into office, along with new board members Sheighla Tippett and Sandra Ferrell.

Then it was time for members of the public to speak.

Josh Ijames told the board it was a perfect time for change. “It kind of warms my heart that we can come together … but I am saddened … that Commissioner (Chris) Almond is still on the board.”

Ijames asked Almond to resign immediately for negligence. Almond’s wife, Jessica, is the former mayor who has been named in a lawsuit filed by Mocksville attorney, Brandy Koontz, on behalf of the town, for being negligent in her duties. Former board member Jeannie Taylor was also named in that lawsuit, claiming both had signed checks for the town clerk without investigating the reasons for the expenditures.

That clerk, Aaron Thies, was fired last summer for embezzlement. That criminal case is being investigated by the Davie Sheriff’s Office and the SBI, and Sheriff J.D. Hartman said that charges, if any, aren’t likely until early next year.

The lawsuit claims that Thies embezzled more than $250,000 from the town since his employment in 2021. The town received an injunction from a judge ordering Thies not to hide or dispose of personal property.

Chris Almond has remained on the board, and that worries Ijames, who said that last winter, Chris had discovered $5,500 missing in the police budget, but did not pursue the matter enough. Ijames said he became more skeptical when Jessica Almond was named in the lawsuit.

Ijames said he helped break the case when he learned that Thies had been depositing a lot of town checks in his name.

Ellen Herbert said: “How has the former mayor’s husband not removed himself?” She also offered encouragement to the board: “I’m sure they will guide us into more positive representation of what this town has to offer.”

Chris Almond responded later in the meeting: “I beat myself up every day. He (Thies) stole from me, too. I pay taxes just like you do. Get off my back … I want him behind bars as much as you do.”

Chris said that he and board member Andy Reavis went over the police budget time and time again to try to find the problem. “And I’m a numbers guy. We were told it was a software glitch.”

Steve Corriher, who was hired as clerk after Thies was fired, said a new audit of the town’s finances should be ready for the board in January.

The new mayor said that while he had a lot to learn about the job, he wants more participation from town residents.

“There are quite a few things we can do to make things better,” Smith said. “We need to look at these processes of how the town, regarding finances … to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

All town ordinances need a thorough review, he said. “That’s the constant complaint I hear, and you can see it in a lot of places.”

At the December meeting, Smith said there would be sign-up sheets for citizen committees which would discuss issues and make recommendations to the board.

“I’m humbled to be seated in this chair,” Smith said. “We will try to make this town all the things it can be.”

Sandra Ferrell added: “I will do the best of my ability to serve this town with honesty, integrity and with transparency.”