by Geoff Fox
Two citizens questioned town officials as to why grants they submitted for revitalization of their businesses were not approved when they were done correctly and submitted in time for approval. One business owner has ties to town officials.
The first person to speak during the citizens’ comments was Linda Smith, owner of The Fractured Banana and wife of Mayor Tim Smith.
Through an acquaintance who had spoken to a councilman, Linda Smith said she was told her grant application was going to be denied because of her relationship with the mayor.
Linda Smith said she applied for her grant back in November and wanted to know the status of the grant and others.
Councilman Roland Lanehart told Smith officials would be voting on a list of grants later in the meeting.
However, Smith let them know the mayor was not involved in the business and has no stake in ownership.
Lanehart, who wanted to speak on behalf of town council, told Smith why she couldn’t apply for the grant.
“As long as that’s your husband, that’s conflict of interest,” he said, referring to the mayor.
Lanehart referenced the 2021 removal of Cort Meinelschmidt as Washington County Commissioner after allegedly taking small business relief funds for a business in which he had a financial interest.
Smith said her grant went through the grant committee without anything being said.
She also claimed there was nothing in writing saying any family of town officials couldn’t apply.
“From day one, the mayor and myself said nobody from the mayor or council or their immediate family could apply for this,” Lanehart said.
Smith again countered asking why it made it through the committee.
Lanehart pointed out final approval is up to the mayor and council.
“I understand that, but perception does not look good that you all would want to stop a business…” Smith started before Lanehart cut her off.
“Perception doesn’t look good if the mayor’s wife applies for a grant,” he said.
Again Smith told him Mayor Smith does not have anything to do with the business and she’s just a business just trying to make it.
Lanehart pointed out Smith hadn’t been open since before Christmas, which she pointed out it’s been a down time of the year with a reopening scheduled for March.
“Ma’am, I’m not going to argue with you. We’ll vote on it here in a little while,” Lanehart said.
Smith again said she wanted to point out it didn’t look good on officials for not wanting to help a business.
She wasn’t the only business owner upset with officials and the grant process.
Triangle Restaurant owner Bev Burnett also raised concern about the grants and being denied a grant.
Burnett claimed town officials denied her grant in a closed session during a special town meeting.
She said she applied for two grants – one for inside her business and one for ouside her building. The inside grant was approved.
She then immediately applied for a grant to revitalize the outside of her building, including getting a quote on how much the work would cost.
After five weeks of not hearing anything from town officials, Burnett said she came to Town Hall and talked to Town Manager Mike Faith.
She said Faith said the quote was reasonable and didn’t see any reason why she wouldn’t get the grant.
Burnett said she was informed that town officials held a closed meeting and denied her grant.
She said she could make a list of the times the town has come to her asking for donations.
Burnett also said she gave money to the Gaming Commission “who is the one giving you guys the money for the grant” and spoke to someone from the commission who was surprised she wasn’t approved.
Faith on Thursday said there was no closed meeting held and confirmed the money for the grants still comes from the town’s interest in Trulieve, which used to be Harvest.
Burnett said, aside from Harvest, she employs more people from Hancock and the equipment and other things in the business came from Hancock businesses. She also said RAM Enterprise did work around her business.
Burnett also said she has paid sanitation fees for 20 years without setting trash bags out on her driveway.
“How about if I ask for a refund for that 20 years?” she asked.
Burnett alleged she was being discriminated against and the grants were a scam. She also claims she was misled to believe she was able to apply and receive a grant for outside revitalization when another business was approved for a similar grant that improves a parking lot.
“She’s going to be really pissed when I park in her parking lot every day,” Burnett said.
Burnett also claims another business was approved for apartment improvements.
Committee member Dan Murphy, who was in the audience, told Burnett the committee was only to approve and acknowledge everything was done correctly.
Mayor Tim Smith continued to explain the committee then sends it on to the mayor and council who eventually approve or deny the grants.
Town officials told Burnett they had nothing personal against her or the business. They also told her they’d check into when she filed her application and review the situation.
In the online minutes from two recent special meetings where town officials voted on Business Revitalization Grant applications, seven were approved during a January 19 special meeting and three (Dave Creek, Lock-n-Hook, and R&S) were approved during a February 9 special meeting.
There was no mention of either Fractured Banana or Triangle Restaurant being denied a grant in either meeting.
During the February meeting, town officials had a number of grants up for approval. Fractured Banana was among those being considered.
Later in the meeting, town officials reviewed five grant applications – DVR Industries, R&S Auto and Truck Repair, Phoenix Rising, James and Mary Fink, and Fractured Banana.
In a text message to The Hancock News, Faith said all but Fractured Banana were approved. The Fractured Banana was denied, Faith said.