Bertie citizens’ group retains legal counsel

Published 8:56 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WINDSOR – Apparently, a group of concerned Bertie County citizens are growing tired of waiting.

Yesterday (Monday), a letter was sent to Bertie County officials from an Elizabeth City law firm, one retained by an unnamed group of county citizens who have expressed their concerns over a decision to raise the annual salary of Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb by 42 percent.

That pay hike was reported by this newspaper earlier this month, a story based on information from the North Carolina Institute of Government that revealed Lamb’s salary was increased from $101,725 in 2010 to $144,000 in 2011.

At their Feb. 7 meeting, the Bertie County Commissioners were greeted by a large crowd, many asking for an explanation of why Lamb’s salary was increased by such a large amount in a time of an economic recession. Citizens speaking during public comments that night indicated that Lamb’s salary did not compare with managers in the same economic situations as Bertie County. Citizens also asked for a justification for the salary increase.

Now, two weeks later, those citizens have stepped up their request for information.

In a Feb. 21 letter addressed to Misty Deanes, Clerk to the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, several requests were made on behalf of the concerned citizens regarding public records and public information. The letter was sent from L. Phillip Hornthal III, an attorney with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, attorneys at law.

“We are legal counsel for a group of concerned Bertie County citizens and we have been retained to request certain public records from your office,” Hornthal wrote in the letter to Deanes. “On behalf of our clients, we hereby request the following public records and public information.”

Those requests were for (1): Each and every contract entered into between the County and Zee Lamb in the last three years and all drafts of any past, present or proposed future contracts between the County and Zee Lamb; (2): Each and every public record evidencing an increase in Zee Lamb’s providing of legal services for Bertie County over the last three years; (3): Each and every public record documenting any recommendation of, request or vote to approve an increase in Mr. Lamb’s salary in the last two years; and (4): Each and every public record documenting the job description of the County Manager of Bertie County.

All requests were based on the state’s general statutes dealing with the North Carolina Public Records Act and the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.

“The public records requested herein shall specifically include e-mail, letters, memoranda and any other correspondence sent to or received from or otherwise exchanged between or among the Bertie County Manager, the Bertie County Assistant Manager, the members of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, or the employees of Bertie County,” Hornthal wrote. “They shall also include correspondence exchanged between any members of the public and any of the parties above-listed. The records request include any responsive records whether they reside on Bertie County property or computer systems or reside on the personal property or computer systems of the officials and employees of the County.”

Copies of Hornthal’s letter were sent by U.S. Mail and e-mail to the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, Bertie County Attorney Lloyd Smith and to Lamb.

Lamb’s salary is higher than any of the four county managers in the region. Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams is paid $94,961 while Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins is slightly behind at $92,795. Gates County Manager Toby Chappell makes $80,508 annually.

According to the Institute of Government, Lamb was paid $77,000 per year in 2001. That amount was raised to $86,000 in 2002 and then increased slightly to $87,720 the following year.

In both 2004 and 2005 he received $89,913 before receiving an increase to $92,161 in 2006 and then $94,926 in 2007. His 2008 salary was reportedly $97,797.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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