07/22/08 — Duplin OKs freeze on new hiring by 4-2 vote

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Duplin OKs freeze on new hiring by 4-2 vote

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 22, 2008 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County's efforts to breathe life into its newly incorporated economic development office seem to have been derailed by a 4-2 Monday afternoon vote by county commissioners to enact a hiring freeze.

The action was among seven motions put forth by Commissioner David Fussell to cut or restrict county spending.

Board members approved two of Fussell's suggestions. Four others were rejected by 5-1 votes. County attorney Wendy Sivori ruled another motion out of order.

"These are not pleasant things, but it will help prepare for the downturn in the economy," Fussell said.

The only other motion commissioners approved was for County Manager Mike Aldridge to explore ways to consolidate county departments and offices. He is to report his findings by February.

Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Wells voted against the hiring freeze. Board members agreed to revisit Fussell's other proposals at a work session.

Wells asked Fussell how his motion would affect the economic development job.

"Simple, he won't be hired," Fussell said. "It is spelled out. If he (Aldridge) does not find a person certified (who is a county employee), he comes to us (for approval to hire)."

Wells said the idea, while it might be a good one, "still needed to be worked out."

Meanwhile, Aldridge devoted an entire day last week to interviewing applicants for the economic development director's post.

After the meeting, Aldridge said the vote put another "wrinkle" in the process. Aldridge said he had planned to begin background checks on a promising candidate this week. Now, he said, he is unsure of his next step.

Fussell's motion also stipulated that commissioners will be the final arbitrators of whether positions left open when an employee resigns or is fired will be filled.

If a job requires special certification and there are no qualified county employees, Aldridge may, with the board's approval, advertise the open position.

The motion that was ruled out of order concerned operation of the Duplin County Events Center. Fussell sought cancellation of the county's contract with Venue Works, the company that currently manages the facility.

"I am for the Events Center, but not how it is being run now and the amount of money it is costing the taxpayers," he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Rose Hill resident Billy Varker of Midnite Productions had expressed an interest in operating the facility. He was followed later in the meeting by John Voght of Venue Works, who updated the board on the Events Center.

"I have heard from other folks out there who are willing to manage it and at less cost and more effectively," Fussell said.

Guy reminded Fussell that the board already had agreed to give Venue Works another year.

That was when Ms. Sivori told Fussell that based on board policy his motion was out of order.

Fussell's other motions, all of which failed, concerned em-ployee use of county vehicles, relocating the parks and recreation office to Cabin Lake, consolidating parks and recreation and the Cowan Museum with the Duplin Tourism Authority, and requiring the establishment of fixed routes for the county's transportation system by Nov. 1.

His motion on usage of county vehicles excluded law enforcement. It would have required Aldridge to compile a list of employees authorized to use county vehicles.

Board members were concerned about how such action would affect employees who might be on call or who needed specialized equipment to do their jobs.

Commissioner Zettie Wil-liams said it would also mean the county would have to pay additional mileage if employees had to drive their personal vehicle to respond to a call.

"This needs more discussion," Commissioner Cary Turner said.

As for relocating the recreation department to Cabin Lake, Recreation Director Dianne McNamara said her office is centrally located and that such a move would be an inconvenience to people who use it. In addition, she said the office building at the lake is not large enough to handle the extra staff.

As for fixed transportation routes, transportation Director Steve Moore said such routes were all but impossible for a rural county like Duplin.

Fussell called the current setup a "taxi" service.

Moore said he would need at least 14 more vehicles and funding in order to do what Fussell was asking.

In making his presentation, Fussell said he had sought the advice of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, and of Duplin County residents who, like him, are concerned about the county's finances and future.

"Few people object to paying taxes if they are properly assessed and utilized," he said. "We need to convince the public we are spending wisely before we tell the public more taxes are needed."

Guy called Fussell's preparation "prolific" and said he admired his determination to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

"I think many have merit," Guy said. "Unfortunately you brought it out of your own personal think tank."

"This group needs to be sitting down together to talk," Guy said. "It makes a difference. These ideas need to be bounced back and forth between commissioners."

Fussell said he had mailed his concerns to the other commissioners and that they had had time to review them.