It wasn’t on the agenda, but Commissioner Shirley Brinkley used the occasion of a Mount Airy city council meeting Thursday night to address a recent incident in which she personally cut down bushes and trimmed shrubs outside the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
And though Brinkley did express “regret” for the attention that act brought to the city government, she also defended the work performed on July 26 which normally would have been handled by municipal landscaping personnel.
“My actions were done with no intent to cause any harm toward anyone, any business or any living item,” Brinkley said while reading from a prepared statement Thursday night — which included the word “living” highlighted in yellow.
The South Ward commissioner previously had said she decided to undertake the work at the playhouse early on the morning of July 26 after touring its grounds the day before and noticing plants there in need of attention. She was “appalled” to see a number of dead plants and shrubbery needing to be trimmed, Brinkley has said.
While the Surry Arts Council is based at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and also operates a museum nearby dedicated to the late actor, the city government actually owns the property and maintains the buildings and grounds.
The handiwork by Brinkley — who has said she had no landscaping experience except for working in her own yard — came to the attention of the public through a West Pine Street resident. He walks in the playhouse area during the evenings and noticed what he termed “butchered bushes.”
That individual noted that it was “not common practice to prune, much less butcher, flowering plants and shrubs during a heat wave and severe drought situation” and that “many of the lovely roses, hollies and viburnums had been butchered and the debris carelessly tossed about.”
Brinkley’s work was halted on the morning in question after Michella Huff, the city’s grounds maintenance supervisor, was notified about it and arrived on the scene.
“I’m a plant lover, so that was tough for me to see,” Huff said afterward of what she observed there.
The incident drew a flood of comments from citizens, through both online postings and conversation. There was some sentiment that Brinkley should have left the job to professionals and that anyone who wasn’t an elected official might have been charged with a crime.
The board member attempted to shed more light on the incident when speaking during a public forum portion of the Thursday night commissioners meeting, when citizens — including officials — may address any city government topic.
Brinkley took a position of no harm, no foul in responding to initial concerns about a monetary loss from damage to the plants.
“The items I cut and trimmed did not belong to the city — thus no financial loss to the city,” she said while reading from her statement. “The SAC (Surry Arts Council) purchased the items and has told me more than once that there is no restitution required because the bushes I cut and trimmed were already scheduled to be cut and trimmed by city staff.”
Brinkley also reiterated an earlier offer. “As I have previously stated, if the SAC believes that I did any damage, I will pay for the loss.”
The commissioner who is now serving her second four-year term went on to say Thursday night that she lamented the attention resulting.
“I regret that my actions have brought unnecessary publicity on this board and the city.”
Brinkley also said she hopes the incident can be put to rest.
“It is time to move forward — observe one another’s motives through the eyes of Christ — and focus on bigger issues that will make our city the best it should be,” she concluded.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.