Oriental fires Cahoon

Published 8:47 am Thursday, June 3, 2010

ORIENTAL – Randy Cahoon, the former Gates County Planning Director who resigned in February of last year to accept the job of Town Administrator in Oriental, was fired from that position Tuesday night.

According to Oriental Mayor Bill Sage, the town’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 at their regularly scheduled meeting to part ways with Cahoon.

Sage, in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, said the termination was “without cause under the terms of the contract that calls for the Town Administrator to serve at the pleasure of the Board.”

Mayor Sage added that the provisions of Cahoon’s contract will be honored.

“Under the terms of the contract, in the event of a termination the Administrator is entitled to the salary and benefits outlined in the contract for a period of up to six months,” Sage said. “If he gains employment prior to the end of that six-month period, there are other provisions in the contact that come into play…i.e. if the new job pays more, our salary and benefits obligation ends; if it’s less, we pay the difference until the six-month period ends.”

Since becoming Oriental’s Town Administrator, Cahoon has been criticized for his management practices by online media covering Pamlico County and the town of Oriental. In March of this year, Pamlico County Superior Court Judge Ben Alford dismissed a complaint filed by Tony Tharp, editor of the online newspaper, “Pamlico Today.”

Tharp sought legal action after failed attempts to gain copies of certain e-mails sent/received by Cahoon. One of the e-mails sought was reportedly written by Cahoon and sent to an old political rival in Gates County. Allegedly, that e-mail discussed Tharp’s online newspaper. The judge ruled that particular email is “personal” and not covered by state law.

Additionally, Tharp sought copies of emails sent/received by Cahoon during his time as Gates County Planner.

Gates County Manager Toby Chappell confirmed that Tharp had contacted his office last year, requesting Cahoon’s emails.

“Mr. Tharp requested all official emails sent to and from Randy Cahoon’s computer in the Planning Office,” Chappell said during an interview in March. “That request, minus the emails that are exempted under state’s public records law from being released, was granted.”

Chappell said he went through “a significant number of emails” sent/received by Cahoon during his three-plus years as an employee of Gates County government. Not all emails were released to Tharp.

“I checked each email to ensure they were not exempted from being released,” Chappell said.

State law prevents the release of emails to/from government officials when they pertain to economic development, certain communication between attorneys and a government client, state tax information, trade secrets, certain settlements of lawsuits, records concerning industrial expansion and certain personnel information on government employees.

“There will be a lot of people that will speculate over why Mr. Cahoon was terminated, but the only thing that I will say is that the board has the right under its contract with our Town Administrator to end that employment at any time with a majority vote of the board,” Sage said.

Following Cahoon’s termination, the Oriental Town Commissioners appointed longtime town employee Heidi Artley as the town’s clerk, finance officer and budget officer. Sage said that Artley will handle the town’s business affairs while the board searches for a new Town Administrator.

Cahoon began his duties as Oriental’s Town Administrator on March 9, 2009. A native of New Bern, he was initially employed by Gates County on Nov. 21, 2005.