Bid to oust Smith falls short
By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 17, 2013 1:46 PM
Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning voted down by a 6-1 margin Commissioner Joe Daughtery's motion to fire County Manager Lee Smith after questioning Smith's credibility and honesty.
While agreeing with some of Daughtery's comments, commissioners said they were not in position to be without a county manager.
Daughtery used a presentation on the cost of the county's failed Ceridian payroll system as the springboard to call for Smith's ouster, saying it was another case in which county taxpayers had suffered a "tremendous financial loss" and that someone needed to be held "accountable."
"I think the payroll issue was the straw that broke the camel's back," Daughtery said after the meeting. "There have been numerous other issues where the county manager has misstated the facts to the public, to me and to the board."
When asked for specific examples, Daughtery said he would have a "number of them." He said that he would "try to go back and get some together." He then returned to his discussion of the payroll system concerns.
When asked again if he had specifics concerning Smith's mismanagement and misstatements, Daughtery said, "No. But I will tell you what, by next Monday I will try to get some information."
Daughtery denied rumors that have persisted since prior to the election that firing Smith had been his goal since he filed for office last year.
"No. No. It never was," he said. "It was never anything personal."
Daughtery said he was and was not surprised by the 6-1 vote. The motion had come as an "in your face" because there had been no discussion on it, he said.
"So I think it was a shock to a lot of people that I had reached that point," he said. "I thought about this and prayed about it over the weekend and decided as early as (Monday) that I was going to go ahead and make that motion."
Late in the meeting, Daughtery made a motion to enter closed session to consult with County Attorney Borden Parker. Smith did not go in with the commissioners.
The board returned to open session within five minutes, with Daughtery saying that on Parker's advice he was making a motion to enter closed session to consult with Parker and for discussion of an employee's performance.
The second closed-door meeting lasted about 25 minutes and was attended by Smith.
After returning to open session, Daughtery said he found himself in an awkward position. However, he said he felt he had to address the issue and do what he felt was in the best interest of his district and the county.
"I have lost all trust and confidence in County Manager Lee Smith," he said. "Mr. Smith has provided continuously inaccurate, misleading and false information to the citizens of Wayne County, this board and prior boards. He states things that are untrue and are inaccurate.
"I and this board must make decisions based upon the information provided to us for us to have good sound decisions for the citizens of Wayne County. We must have full faith and trust in the county manager and his responses and they need to be open, they need to be truthful and they need to be complete, nothing held back."
Commissioner John Bell said he had worked with Smith for 12 years and had worked with other county managers, too.
"I know where the county was when he came to this county, and I know where it is now," Bell said. "Contrary to what some may have said talking about the county has been overspending, we are one of the most successful counties in the eastern part of North Carolina."
Bell said that the county had an inflated budget prior to Smith's arrival, which made the county appear to have more money than it actually had.
"Under the leadership of County Manager Lee Smith we have built this county to where we could do things," Bell said.
The county has an AAA credit rating, meaning the county would have no problem borrowing money, he pointed out.
"Contrary to what my seatmate here just said, not being able to believe in the county manager, the last time I checked the county manager follows the dictates of the county Board of Commissioners," Bell said. "What I am trying to say is that Lee Smith did not make decisions on his own, just came up and make decisions. He carried out the dictates of the previous board. I don't know where Commissioner Daughtery is getting his information from, but I disagree with him 100 percent."
Commissioner Ray Mayo said the only problem that he had with the motion was its timing because the county has no alternative to not having a county manager in place.
"I understand we have no one. We have no applications," Mayo said. "Nobody has even inquired. Who would be the next county manager for Wayne County? That is the only problem I have with this motion -- the fact that we have not prepared for this. I have a problem with not being prepared."
The board is not prepared to handle a new county manager, but could be in two or three months if commissioners applied themselves, he added.
Commissioners might not be prepared to move to a new manager because that is not something the board has been working toward, Commissioner Ed Cromartie said.
Cromartie said that based on his time as an educator that people had a right to hear or have in writing if there were deficiencies in their work. They also have a right to defend themselves, he said.
"Anyone can take something and write it down, but I would argue that you would need some evidence to back it up before you reach what we are talking about right now," Cromartie said. "If we haven't been considering this then that tells you right there that the job that has been done has been adequate, if not above adequate, to the point that there was not this broad discussion of to even think about making a change."
Chairman Steve Keen said he had served on the board since 2008 and had concerns about previous boards "giving the reins" to Smith.
Comparing Smith to a racehorse and commissioners to a jockey, he said that previous boards had allowed Smith to run out of steam. He said that he had seen that Smith had it in him to finish the race and finish it strongly.
"I just guess it is incompetence on the part of county commissioners and not Smith," he said.
Keen said he knew that it would take Smith to get the new board through a budget process and that he had done that.
"But I am on record saying that I agree that he deserves a year to see what he can do with this board and be sensitive," he said.
Smith is nonpartisan, understands the system, and understands the county better than what some commissioners think he does, Keen said.
Commissioner Bill Pate said he did not think that Smith had known how bad the payroll issue had been.
"I think some of the things Commissioner Daughtery said are valid," Pate said. "But I think every man, as was said over here, deserves a chance to respond, so I would like to see that happen."
Commissioner Wayne Aycock said the board probably could not have gone through the budget process as quickly as it had without Smith.
Aycock said that he and Smith had differences over the years.
"I just think we have too much ahead of us right now in the future of this county, several issues that need to be addressed," he said. "I am going to take the stand of the chairman, I am not in a position to change right now."
Bell finally called for the vote, but Keen first asked Smith if he had any comment.
"No sir," Smith said.