02/11/14 — Board accepts Smith's resignation

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Board accepts Smith's resignation

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 11, 2014 1:46 PM

Lee Smith

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith will be paid $325,000 as part of a resignation agreement unanimously approved Monday afternoon by Wayne County commissioners.

There was no discussion.

The county expects to name an interim manager as soon as possible, especially in light of the looming budget process, Wayne County Commission Chairman Wayne Aycock said. However, it could take the county up to eight months to find a permanent replacement, he said.

The board announced the resignation after a three-and-a-half-hour closed-door meeting called to preserve attorney-client privilege.

Smith, who did not attend the meeting, had been suspended with pay since Jan. 3.

"I would like to thank the employees, various team members, citizens and businesses of Wayne County for their support and commitment over the last 13 years," Smith said in a prepared statement. "My family and I made Wayne County home, and today is bittersweet, but I am optimistic for my family and the Wayne County community.

"I have dedicated my life to community service and intend to follow that path wherever it leads my family and I. My family and I wish everyone great success in growing such a wonderful community. To many, many close friends, this is not goodbye... it is a new day."

Aycock said the process of finding a new manager has started.

"We have already contacted the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners," Aycock said. "They have people on staff to help in situations like this. They already have gotten some contacts to us, and they will get more to us."

Commissioner Bill Pate will be responsible for "rounding up" that information, he said.

There are "plenty of qualified people" in the area, including retired city and county managers, who are willing to work short-term jobs, Aycock said.

Aycock declined comment on whether that included anyone already in the county.

Wayne County has been without a full-time manager since mid-December when commissioners said Smith had asked for some time off.

At that time, the board named Aycock acting county manager, a role he will continue to play until an interim manager is named.

Then on Jan. 3, following a specially called closed session, commissioners voted 6-1 to suspend Smith with pay. There was no discussion.

Commissioner John Bell, who had voted against the suspension, made the motion Monday to accept the agreement.

Smith was hired as county manager on Dec. 10, 2001, and the previous board of commissioners approved a six-year contract with him on Jan. 1, 2012.

As of July 1, 2013, the start of the county's 2013-14 fiscal year, his annual salary was $221,408.95. He also receives $12,000 annually for travel.

Smith had hired attorneys with the law firm of Haithcock, Barfield, Hulse & Kinsey to represent him.

In an earlier interview, attorney Glenn Barfield said that the county would owe Smith a $1.4 million severance package if he was fired.

He also said that a "suggestion" had been offered to commissioners.

In the agreement approved Monday, commissioners said all questions would be directed to County Attorney Borden Parker who would reply "in whatever manner as he shall deem appropriate."

Also under the agreement, all parties agree not to make written or verbal statements that "defame, disparage or in any way criticize the personal or professional reputation, practices or conduct" of those involved so far as such statements concern or relate to Smith's service as county manager.

According to the document, disagreements had arisen between Smith and the board and that both parties wanted to resolve those issues. Those include disputes concerning Smith's contract with the county.

It also notes that "other disputes and disagreements" have arisen between Smith, the county, the board of commissioners and "some members of the board."

Those disputes involve "certain alleged actions, statements," of and by Smith and/or of and by "individual" county employees.

In the document, both Smith and the county agree they lack any "valid legal claims" against each other.

It adds that any claims for or against Smith, or "any other party" related to Smith's employment by the county, or any document that relates to the agreement have been made part of Smith's confidential personnel file protecting them from disclosure.

It further adds that the agreement is a compromise of disputed claims and that the payment should not be "construed as an admission of liability."

Both sides agree to pay their own attorney costs.

If Smith becomes employed by a government agency or entity and would be entitled to a transfer of accrued sick leave, the county would cooperate in such a transfer, according to the agreement.

Smith will be provided a "reasonable" opportunity to remove personal items from his office on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex. He will be required to return any county property now in his possession and will be given a receipt for it.