After two citizens complained during a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting last month that Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary had them blocked from viewing his personal Facebook page where he often posts relevant city information, Clary created an “official” mayoral page on which to share city news.
Clary, who is seeking re-election in November, announced the new page, “Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary,” in an email on May 4.
“In response to public requests, I have set up a new Facebook page for me to communicate city information directly with residents,” said Clary. “By contrast the ‘Hendersonville City Hall’ page on Facebook will continue to be controlled by staff, as it has been for several months.”
Clary goes on to say that city staff has withheld information about COVID-19, SBA loans, and the process for businesses to re-open by not posting the information on the city’s Facebook page.
“We have had similar problems with other city media: Channel Three, the city’s YouTube channel, and the city website,” he said. “Many recent items that I submitted for publication were altered, delayed and ignored by staff.”
The email, a newsletter funded by Clary’s political campaign that is sent to around 4,500 residents, highlights a growing rift at City Hall between the city’s elected mayor and an interim city administrator appointed late last year by the 13-member Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The rift seemed to widen further after Clary explained why he’s blocked several citizens and at least four aldermen on Facebook in the first place. The reasons – disputed during a May 12 BOMA meeting - include claims of theft from his City Hall office and the hacking of his work and personal email.
How it all started
The issue first came to the forefront during an April 28 BOMA meeting that was held via Zoom. Citizens Rebecca Mills and Jen Yamin both questioned during the citizens comments portion of the meeting why Clary was posting relevant city information on his personal Facebook page that not everyone has access to.
Both women said Clary had blocked them.
“Unfortunately, some citizens are not able to access certain information… because that information is shared on a private Facebook page – or in an email we don’t have access to,” said Mills.
Mills said she and others have been blocked from Clary’s personal Facebook page, and that she has also asked to receive Clary’s email newsletter to no avail.
Mills requested that Clary use or create an official mayoral Facebook page on which to share city information.
Yamin said she was frustrated with the way city information was disseminated as well.
“We have never seen anything as unique as this pandemic,” she said, adding that finding consistent information from the city about the COVID-19 crisis was difficult.
“There needs to be one place for city information to be collated and disseminated,” she said.
Allegations of thefts, cybercrimes at City Hall
When asked by a reporter after the April 28 meeting why the two citizens were blocked from his personal page, Clary said he didn’t know specifically why Yamin and Mills were blocked, and added he would email a list of reasons of why people were blocked from his personal page in general.
Clary also said that he wasn’t the only public official who blocked people from a personal Facebook page.
“It’s purely political,” he said of Mills and Yamin. “They are supporters of people who disagree with me on many items.”
Clary posted the reasons for blocking people on his Facebook page on May 7. They include: “Falsely accusing me of breaking the law, hacking my personal and work email, repeatedly writing false statements on my personal Facebook page, harassing business owners because they praised my work as mayor, badgering non-profit leaders to un-invite me from their fundraisers, republishing pictures of my kids on social media, stealing from my office, filing false police reports and threatening to punch me in the throat.”
When asked by a reporter about the most serious reasons he gave like thefts and the hacking of emails, Clary said that items were stolen from his City Hall office three different times. They included a gift card, a folder, and a thumb drive. Clary said he talked to police informally after the third incident.
“The suggestion was to get new keys to my office, so that’s what I did,” he said.
When asked about his work emails being hacked, Clary said that there were some emails sent from his email account that he didn’t send. He also said that some emails were permanently deleted and some of his settings were changed.
“I did make IT aware of it,” he said.
During the May 12 BOMA meeting, both Yamin and Mills spoke again during citizens comments.
“You’ve made some pretty serious allegations,” Yamin said, asking if the hacking of Clary’s emails had ever been addressed or investigated by city officials. She also asked if a police report had been filed regarding the theft Clary said occurred from his office.
Mills acknowledged Clary’s creation of an official mayoral Facebook page since she last spoke, but said she’s still concerned that Clary posts about city business on his personal page and continues to block citizens.
She also questioned if any of the allegations Clary made against those he has blocked were ever reported or investigated.
“If the mayor’s email is hacked, what else could be hacked?” she asked. “It’s just very alarming to the citizens.”
Later during his report, Interim City Administrator Dave LeMarbre addressed Mills’ and Yamin’s questions.
“No emails have been hacked. No personnel files have been compromised,” he said. “There are no police reports filed.”
Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown said he was contacted by a couple of constituents who had seen Clary’s Facebook post about the hacking of emails and thefts at City Hall.
Brown asked Hendersonville Police Chief Mickey Miller if any reports or complaints had been filed.
“I just know a report has not been filed,” said Miller.
LeMarbre: Posts should not be political
During an interview earlier this month, the Hendersonville Standard asked LeMarbre about the accusations Clary made in his newsletter about information sent by Clary being ignored, altered or delayed by staff before it’s posted to the city website or on social media.
LeMarbre gave authority of the city’s Facebook page to the IT department about a month after BOMA appointed him to the interim position in December.
He said that he has instructed the city’s IT department to not post anything political or that is politically motivated on the city’s Facebook page.
When someone does, LeMarbre says he often hears about it from several city aldermen.
“So, when we would get something from the state, EMS, governor, we would post it,” he said. At about the same time, Clary would send the same basic information, but re-word it to promote himself or ask to post his picture with the information, LeMarbre added. “And I wouldn’t put that on there. It’s about the city business. It’s not about him getting re-elected mayor.”
Clary was elected mayor in 2016. In 2019, the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 7 to 6 to hire a city administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of the city. The board appointed LeMarbre, the city’s former Parks Department director, to fill the position until a permanent city administrator is hired.
Former Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Brenda Payne is also running for mayor.