INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A supposedly false statement made on social media has led the Indian Trail Town Council to censure one of its members.

The motion Tuesday night passed 3-2 to publicly admonish Todd Barber. He and council member Tom Amburgey opposed it.

The controversy stems from statements at an August Planning Board meeting made by Planning Director Brandi Deese about the downtown master plan. The town’s resolution to censure states that Barber wrote on this political account on Facebook that Deese said: “Churches are not part of the environment we want.”

According to the meeting’s minutes, she was explaining how churches wouldn’t generate revenue that the town would be striving for specifically downtown.

“You would want to eliminate uses that consume a lot of land or dead space. Eliminating churches may be a hard choice, but if the Planning Board wanted to add churches back such
as store-front churches, then the staff could do so … however, that would create a lot of dead space for the environment the town is trying or said it wanted to create.”

The resolution (below) denies the statements were made, leading to a “public distrust of town staff” and citizens calling for Deese’s firing.

“This inaccurate post triggered a significant public outcry that, among other things, included calls to terminate the employment of the Indian Trail planner who was falsely quoted and created significant public distrust of Town staff.”

The resolution asks that Barber “govern his future conduct so as to refrain from publicizing false and misleading statements related to the employees and affairs of the Town of Indian Trail.”

At a specially called meeting on Aug. 29, council member Marcus McIntyre exhibited his displeasure over the comments, saying they have created “a hostile work environment.” 

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “It doesn’t fall under his purview; even if he disagrees, it cannot be done in this environment.” 

Barber then deleted the post at hand and replaced it on Aug. 18 with a second quote,
amended to remove what the town calls “contextually significant information.”

Mayor David Cohn agreed that what was written in quotes was not true. He said Tuesday that the comments have led to a flurry of misinformation.

“They ran out to the public and said there’s going to be 10-story buildings downtown,” Cohn said. “There’s not 10-story buildings because we worked that out. It’s only going to be 50 feet. The plan was going to be worked on and worked with… it went straight to the public and to social media.”

In a rebuttal, Barber said he didn’t violate any town rules and that the special meeting and anticipated action were “politically motivated” with the municipal election this fall. 

“I admit now, I didn’t not get the quote perfect,” he said. “I may have missed some ellipses in fragmented quote. I don’t hear well, and I’m sure people with hearing loss didn’t appreciate a council member’s comments last meeting. I’m not sure how I missed the quote a little bit. It was not intentional.”

He said the punishment does not fit the crime.

“The post was on a media outlet, not for a court of law,” Barber said. “I think the message that the downtown plan does not promote religious assembly is crystal clear, and that’s the message the public received from me at the planning board meeting.”

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The resolution says that the town holds its elected officials to a higher standard:

“Council recognizes Mayor Pro Tempore Barber’s right to advocate on behalf of his constituents and his conscious and to use social media platforms in those efforts. However, as an elected official of the Town of Indian Trail, it is Mayor Pro Tempore Barber’s duty to ensure that his written word demonstrates the highest standards of truthfulness and honesty. As recognized in the North Carolina State Constitution, Section 14, ‘Freedom of Speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and therefore shall never be restrained, but every person shall be held responsible for their abuse.’

– Town of Indian Trail