Hope Mills relents on banning commissioner from town buildings
Posted July 17, 2013
Updated September 26, 2013
Hope Mills, N.C. — An embattled town commissioner on Wednesday dropped his lawsuit against Hope Mills after his fellow commissioners agreed to give him limited access to town buildings.
Last month, commissioners voted 4-1 to ban Tonzie Collins from having any contact with town employees or entering non-public areas of town buildings.
Collins, who was the lone dissenting vote, is the subject of 14 formal complaints from town employees, dating to 2006, accusing him of sexual harassment and intimidation.
"We've had situations where we've had employees file complaints, we've had employees walk off the job," Mayor Jackie Warner said Wednesday. "We wanted to make sure our employees are protected."
Collins denies all of accusations against him, and he filed suit, arguing that the ban prevented him from doing his job and violated his free-speech rights.
A District Court judge asked both sides last week to work out their differences, and members of the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners modified their resolution Monday, giving Collins access to the commissioners' shared office space at Town Hall.
Collins said Wednesday that he's pleased with the change.
"I think it's a victory for the people of Hope Mills," he said. "I can do my job."
His troubles aren't over, however.
The board has a quasi-judicial hearing set for September on whether Collins should be removed from office.
"I think the board feels – and I've certainly seen a lot of evidence – that there is very good basis to have Mr. Collins removed," Town Attorney T.C. Morphis said.
In May, New Hanover County commissioners voted to remove a fellow commissioner from office. It was the first time the procedure had been successfully used to remove a public official in nearly a century.
Collins remains undaunted about the removal effort, saying he'll "approach that when it comes." He's even filed for re-election this fall.
"I'm Tonzie Collins. What you see is what you get," he said.