Split Decision

Published 9:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2013

JACKSON – Despite a volatile discussion as to whether or not the position should be advertised, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners has created an assistant county manager position and approved other measures associated with that new job.

On Wednesday in a special called meeting the commissioners, in five separate motions, created the position, approved the job description, the salary (grade 77 step 1) at $54,032, authorized the position be advertised internally only, and determined the effective date for the position to be May 1.

The commissioners also identified a funding source for the assistant county manager’s salary for May and June (before the beginning of the next fiscal year) in the county’s general fund contingency line item.

At the beginning of the meeting, Commission Chair Robert Carter offered background on the position.

Carter said on Jan. 30, realizing the County Manager Wayne Jenkins would soon retire; he met with Human Resources Director Marcenda Rogers and her consultant Sylvia Johnson to discuss and develop a decision paper for an assistant county manager to present to the Board on Feb. 4.

The decision paper was brought forth in a closed session on Feb. 4 and the board was advised by Board Attorney Charles Vaughan that it was not a closed session matter. A sub-committee consisting of Rogers, Jenkins, Vaughan, Barrett and Carter was created.

According to information provided to the board, media outlets and the audience, Assistant to the County Manager/Clerk to the Board Kimberly Turner had expressed interest in becoming Assistant County Manager.

“(Turner) is willing to remain at her current position with no pay increase until sufficient training is provided to her,” the document reads. “Hopefully, training could be completed by June 30, 2013 at the time of Mr. Jenkins’ retirement.”

The document stated Jenkins was supportive of Turner developing into a higher role and “views her qualified with the exception of dealing with a wide-range of public contacts, and addressing the very sensitive situations and other political issues.”

It was recommended that Jenkins work closely with Turner and allow her to shadow him during the next five months.

In addition, current Administrative Assistant at the County Manager’s Office Mary Faison had expressed interest in the Clerk to the Board position.

It was also stated in the document that Finance Officer Dot Vick had agreed to remain in that position until Sept. 30 and recommended she designate a current staff member to be trained in the areas of Finance Officer. It was also suggested that the county begin to plan creating an assistant finance officer position.

On Feb. 6 the sub-committee met to develop the process to carry out the decision paper. At that time, Jenkins told the group the board would not be setting precedence because a previous Board of Commissioners had evoked the General Statute 153A-76 (pertaining to the organization and reorganization of county government) and he had been a part of the decision.

According to Carter, Vaughan spoke to the county personnel policy and indicated that he would not have any part in the reorganization of the office unless they amend the policy or advertise the position.

Later that night, Carter recalled being told that the General Statute supersedes all local policies and ordinances while attending new commissioner orientation in 1999.

Carter then contacted Turner and directed her to contact the UNC School of Government for clarification.

He then presented a letter from the School of Government. The letter, dated Feb. 20 and signed by Diane M. Juffras, Professor of Public Law and Government, stated the board had the power to reorganize the county manager’s office by creating new positions and reassigning current employees without advertising the position.

She added the county also had the authority to take Turner’s current position and turn it into two separate positions to be filled by two different employees: one that functions as clerk to the board and the other as assistant county manager.

“In my opinion, the board has the power to make these proposed changes, notwithstanding any provision your personnel policy to the contrary, as the General Statutes always take precedence over locally adopted ordinances and policies,” Juffras said.

She concluded if the board has adopted a personnel policy requiring the advertising of positions by resolution it may depart from policy when it so desires. However, the policy has been adopted by the ordinance, then the policy has the force of law and the board may not depart from it. It either must advertise the positions or amend the ordinance.

The board began by approving the creation of an assistant county manager position as well as the job description and the salary.

When the board got to the item as to whether or not they should advertise internally only or internally and externally in compliance with their Personnel Policy, a debate broke out as to whether or not the county had to advertise the position at all.

Vaughan was the largest opponent to separating from the county’s Personnel Policy. He recommended that if the board desired to change the policy to do so.

After a lengthy discussion that often times was very heated, especially between Vaughan and Carter, the board agreed in a 3-2 vote to advertise the position internally only to current county employees. Commissioners Chester Deloatch, Fannie Greene and Carter voted for the measure while Barrett and Commission Vice Chair Virginia Spruill opposed the motion.

The commissioners also decided to make May 1 the effective date for the Assistant County Manager position.

The board also identified the county’s general fund contingency as the source to fund two months salary of the Assistant County Manager (approximately $12,000). There is currently $94,100 in contingency.