Year’s Top Stories – #4

Published 10:58 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WINDSOR – Much of the year’s debate in Bertie County centered on the salary of then County Manager Zee Lamb.

Lamb’s salary was increased in August of 2010 from $101,725 to $144,000. The salary increase was the subject of several months of public input, many opposing the raise, and also sparked a lawsuit from the group Friend of Bertie who is seeking the tape from the closed session that sparked the raise.

In February, a lawyer in Elizabeth City sends a request to Bertie County officials from L. Phillip Hornthal III, an attorney with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland. The letter, which was addressed to Bertie County Clerk to the Board Misty Deanes, made several requests on behalf of a group of anonymous citizens.

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.

In early March, the Bertie County Commissioners submitted a 14-page letter to the public in which they outlined the reasons for the raise given to Lamb.

Bertie County Attorney Lloyd Smith read the 11 points the board went through in deciding to give Lamb’s raise. They included: qualifications, property taxes, unreserved fund balance and general fund expenditures, health department changes, new prison, data center, formation of recreation department and PARTF grants, QZAB, new Social Services building, Medicaid reform and attorney fees.


At the same meeting, more than 100 citizens gathered in the Bertie County District Court room and many addressed the Bertie County Commissioners concerning the raise given to Lamb.

During the meeting, a number of citizens spoke to address their concerns about Lamb’s salary. The speakers ranged from concerned to outraged.

After the public spoke, the board presented the 14-page response. An impromptu citizen’s meeting was held after the board adjourned to discuss the response.


The Friends of Bertie – Rescind the Raise Committee requests releases a public statement in March asking that the raise afford Lamb be rescinded.

The statement also offers the groups thoughts on the response from the Bertie County Commissioners.


On March 8, a letter was sent by Robert E. Hornik Jr., representing The Brough Law Firm, to Smith.

According to that letter, a copy of which was provided to this newspaper by the Friends of Bertie-Rescind the Raise Committee, Hornik addressed an alleged lack of transparency on behalf of the commissioners in approving Lamb’s most recent contract with the county, one that increased the county manager’s salary by $42,275 plus granted an additional $3,000 in annual travel expenses. Lamb, whose total contract package is now worth $153,000, had an annual base salary of $101,725 and $6,000 in travel expenses prior to the pay hike.

Bertie County government has been forthright in its dealings with the public and transparent in their actions.

That is the message sent by Smith in a March letter to Hornik , who represents the Friends of Bertie – Rescind the Raise Committee.

“Regarding your letter of March 8, 2011, you are absolutely incorrect concerning the transparency with which the Bertie County Commissioners have conducted business,” Smith said. “I am unsure with your familiarity with all the statutes governing personnel records and closed sessions, but I can assure you that the Bertie County Commissioners have never attempted to hide anything from anyone. We do comply with the law.”

In late March, the minutes of the closed session in which Lamb’s raise was discussed were released to the public.

The minutes recapped the discussions among commissioners and Lamb concerning his contract.

While the closed session written minutes of the Aug. 17, 2009 meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners have now been made public, the battle continues over the release of the electronic sound recording generated during that session.

As promised, a group of Bertie County citizens filed a lawsuit in April as they continue to seek all information pertaining to Lamb’s raise.


Those plaintiffs are listed as John H. Davis, Ronald D. Wesson, Frances E.N. Rascoe and Timothy L. Phelps.


The legal tussle continued in September between a group of Bertie County citizens and the county’s Board of Commissioners.


In an ongoing effort to have Bertie local government officials turn over an audio tape of the closed session portion of the Aug. 17, 2009 meeting of the county commissioners, the “Friends of Bertie” are seeking their day in court over the matter.