“The state treasurer showed up in Spring Lake out of the blue to tell us, Thank you! Great job! We are doing what they wanted us to do,” Mayor Kia Anthony states as State Treasurer Dale Folwell congratulates her and the board members’ compliance with the state’s finances.
The Local Government Commission (LGC) said it would take at least seven years for Spring Lake to fix its budget deficiency. Her administration exceeded those expectations, completing the task in 17 months. “Going from 1.6 million to almost 11 million in our budget is unheard of,” Anthony said.
The town had faced negative publicity with the loss of its police department and financial corruption that nearly cost its charter. “With the embezzlement, mismanagement, misappropriation, neglect, oversight, and no segregation of duties of its finances, we almost lost our charter to the point where Spring Lake would’ve been non-existent,” she adds.
Anthony, known for orchestrating the Juneteenth festival and food drives, filed for candidacy amid the LGC’s investigation before assuming complete control of Spring Lake’s finances on October 5, 2021.
After taking office, she was shocked by the state’s findings. “It was discovered that the Finance Director had embezzled over $500,000, several hundred thousand dollars of erroneous credit card charges, $35,000 in missing cash, missing vehicles, and money that was never recouped from some employees that were overpaid. It was just a litany of discoveries. We had no idea what we were walking into,” Anthony explained.
The storm arrived in Spring Lake, but the newly appointed mayor and her administration were determined to work cohesively to clean up the storm’s residue. The administration closely listened to the guidance of the LGC and was eager to learn directly from the experts.
“We learn from scratch. That required a lot of reading, studying, networking, attending conferences, and constant training on how local government budgets operate, how to spend money appropriately, and how to maintain records to make sure we stay on top of Spring Lake’s purse,” stated Anthony.
The administration, whom Anthony describes as supportive, implemented the new “Spring Lake Way” to prevent further collapse by tearing down the foundation and starting fresh. Anthony shared that the administration has the same heart and goal: to improve Spring Lake. The administration started from scratch with the town’s finances, created an oversite of the budget, updated all their policies, and conducted strategic planning sessions that helped the team map the town’s plans for the next 10–15 years. The administration also reestablished its committees, such as the Military and Veterans Affairs, Appearance and Sustainability, and the newly formed Special Event Advisory Committee.
She also credits her staff for their perseverance and diligence. Anthony used Jason Williams, the town’s Interim Town Manager and Fire Chief, as an example of his remarkable leadership – cross-training employees and Spring Lake being one of the very few municipalities in North Carolina that have an ISO (Insurance Services Office) Fire Score of 2. She adds the gratitude she receives from employees, expressing their genuine happiness to come to work. Anthony shares this work as more than just repairing the reputation and balancing the budget; it’s helping employees to be happy to work for the town.
Anthony, who’s running for reelection, is eager to continue where she started, focusing on economic development, community revitalization, recreational activities, youth program development, job training programs, and strengthening the business community. Infrastructure is another big focus, as their wastewater facility has been under water twice since Hurricane Matthew and Florence. “Now that we are far more stable than when I took office, I can give the residents tangible assets,” Anthony states.
Spring Lake is working with Piedmont Natural Gas and several stakeholders in Fort Liberty, the state, and the federal level to bring national gas to the city. “Natural gas will entirely change the game for Spring Lake, becoming a huge cost savings for residents and business owners. It allows momentum growth to bring different industries, such as a hospital, to Spring Lake,” Anthony shared.
The town has several new housing developments and businesses, including a Starbucks, coming to Spring Lake. Anthony believes Starbucks will encourage other major companies to invest in Spring Lake. The administration received endorsement from the LGC for grants the town is pursuing and rebuilding relationships with stakeholders.
When asked how she overcame the storm, she notes that she leads with love first, which gives her more compassion, understanding, and tolerance to hear and see through the citizen’s concerns and emotions. Those moving factors motivated Anthony to create a new chapter for Spring Lake. “We must look like these amazing people who live in our community and represent them well,” Anthony states.
She believes forward movement has measurable results based on strategic planning, cohesive decision-making, and community engagement. She believes the administration did just that—cleaned, repaired, and rebuilt the storm’s residue to create a new beginning.
The town’s motto, Unity for Prosperity, is, in Anthony’s words, a direct reflection of leadership. Our administration and employees have reunited for the betterment of the citizens of Spring Lake.