01/05/14 — Commissioners put county manager on administrative leave

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Commissioners put county manager on administrative leave

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 5, 2014 1:50 AM

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Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Wayne Aycock votes in favor of placing County Manaager Lee Smith on administrative leave with pay during the commissioners' meeting Friday night.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith has been suspended with pay for unspecified reasons and without public discussion.

The suspension followed a two-and-a-half-hour closed-door session held Friday night by Wayne County commissioners who approved the action by a 6-1 vote.

Commission Chairman Wayne Aycock said he could not say why Smith was suspended.

The state's Open Meeting Law does not require that commissioners provide a reason for the suspension, said Amanda Martin, attorney for the North Carolina Press Association. 

If there is a termination for disciplinary reasons, they do have to provide the "why," she said.

"We were in closed session for a long time and part of it was the RCC (Radio Communications Co.) contract (to correct problems with the county radio system)," Aycock said. "We wanted to make sure on it. We handled two items tonight."

The only comments during the less than five minutes of open session were from Commissioner Steve Keen who told Aycock he appreciated all he had done as acting county manager for the past two weeks.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery agreed.

Smith, who has been on a leave of absence since Dec. 17, did not attend the meeting. He did not return a phone call asking for comment.

Smith Tuesday told the News-Argus he had not been officially notified of the meeting that was announced that day.

Because of renovations to their regular meeting room, commissioners held the meeting in the Parker Memorial Board Room in the Wayne County Administration Building, 209 S. William St.

Aycock opened the meeting and Keen made the motion to enter closed session shortly after 5 p.m.

County Attorney Borden Parker said the closed session was to preserve attorney-client privilege and to consider the performance and fitness of individual county employees.

Aycock said the building did not have the facilities for a closed session and that the commissioners would walk across William Street to Parker's law office where the closed session would be held.

When the board returned to open session around 7:30 p.m., Aycock asked Vice Chairman Ed Cromartie if he had a motion to make.

Reading from a piece of paper, Cromartie said, "I move to place W. Lee Smith III on administrative leave with pay and Wayne Aycock remain as acting county manager."

The motion was approved 6-1. Commissioner John Bell voted no.

Aycock has been acting county manager since Dec. 17 in Smith's absence. Aycock's appointment came after a two-hour closed session on Dec. 17 called under the auspices of the attorney-client privilege clause in the state's Open Meetings Law.

After returning to open session that day, Keen made the motion for Aycock to take over as acting county manager. There was no discussion, and the motion was unanimously approved.

Following that meeting, Aycock said Smith had asked for some time off. Smith later said he was planning to have elective surgery done over the holidays and expected to be back at work by Jan. 6.

Aycock said he would not be in Smith's office handling the county's day-to-day operations and that if "any big decisions" came up, he would call a special session.

The previous board entered into a six-year contract with Smith on Jan. 1, 2012. Keen voted against the length saying he preferred an annual contract.

According to a 2013 salary survey by the UNC School of Government, Smith is paid $220,369.

Also during Friday's meeting, Parker passed out copies of the proposed contract with Radio Communications Co. -- the Cary-based company the county has hired to correct problems with its radio system.

Keen made a motion to add discussion of the contract to the board's Tuesday agenda. The motion was unanimously approved.