12/09/07 — Pikeville fires new town administrator

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Pikeville fires new town administrator

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on December 9, 2007 2:00 AM

PIKEVILLE -- The Pikeville Board of Commissioners fired its town administrator in a split vote Friday night, a few weeks after the new hire suspended a town clerk for apparent financial irregularities.

Town Mayor Herbert Sieger told media and a small group of town residents that the firing of Richard Lock was not retribution for the investigation of suspended clerk Kathie Fields.

A group of about three people gathered in Pikeville's small town office on Railroad Street during the Friday night closed session awaiting information.

The group watched a worker change the locks on doors before the session had been completed and commissioners had reconvened in an open session voting 3-2 to fire Lock.

Commissioners Al Greene, Lyman Galloway and Dennis Lewis voted to fire Lock. Commissioners Edith McClenny and Vance Greeson voted against his dismissal.

Lock was hired in October in Pikeville to take on the role of administrator, replacing Bob Buchanan, who left for El Salvador because of illness in his wife's family, Sieger has said.

Commissioners and the mayor sparred over whether to hire a new town clerk before or after November's election.

Commissioner Edith McClenny and former Com-missioner Bruce Thomas told Sieger they saw no reason to wait to hire the new administrator, while Sieger wanted to wait until after November.

Lock said he suspended Town Clerk Kathie Fields in November and called in Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders to take possession of some town records.

Lock was not invited to attend the November closed session where the investigation and suspension with pay were discussed, instead waiting outside with media as commissioners and the mayor convened.

An investigation involving both the State Bureau of Investigation and other officials is now under way, and Mrs. McClenny said results are still pending.

Lock said that on Friday, he was asked to respond to a two-page list of statements questioning his performance as town administrator.

After the closed session, Sieger called the town board back to order.

"We've heard both sides of the issues, and I think we've explored the issues fully, or tried to explore them fully from both sides, and we've made no decisions," Sieger said.

Commissioner Lyman Galloway proceeded with a motion to "let Mr. Lock go immediately."

The motion was seconded by Dennis Lewis.

After multiple calls for further discussion with no reply, commissioners cast their votes.

The mayor then asked Lock for his keys to the office, his town-issued cellular phone and "all pertinent material related to the town."

There have also been some questions about the town's handling of public comment in relation to the investigation of Mrs. Fields.

At the behest of Commissioner Al Greene, town officials passed a resolution in November to direct all questions about the investigation to the mayor.

Mike Tadych, counsel for the N.C. Press Association said the resolution is legal, but is unenforceable by law. It would require passage of an ordinance, not a resolution, to tie a misdemeanor or felony punishment to local legislation, Tadych said.

A person with official and intimate knowledge of the town's legal procedures said Friday night that she agreed Tadych had interpreted the law correctly.

Lock said he felt "freed" by the firing on Friday night, and said he would be seeking legal representation for what he believes is an unjust termination.

Commissioner McClenny said she thinks some town officials are unwilling to let a town administrator perform the proper functions.

"If we hire a town administrator, they should just let him do his job," Mrs. McClenny said. "That's what we hire him for."

Mrs. McClenny said she was troubled that she had not received minutes from the town's last meeting or a thank you note from Barbara Aycock, the town administrator for Black Creek.

Mrs. McClenny said Mrs. Aycock indicated she made copies of those documents for all members of the board, but Mrs. McClenny said she had not received hers.

Sieger said Saturday he had spent every day except one Monday before Thanksgiving in the Town Hall, observing Lock.

The mayor said that was due to Lock's "lack of judgment."

"After the fact, his judgment was terrible. And no one leaves a town (hall) without anyone in charge. I'm not knocking the man. I just think his decision making was horrendous."

Telephone messages for further comment Saturday left for Galloway and Greene were not returned.

Lewis did not file a phone number with the Wayne County Board of Elections and his number is not listed in local phone books or on the Internet.