MONROE, N.C. -- More details emerged Monday about last week’s abrupt resignation of Monroe’s city manager, providing an unusually detailed peek inside small-town politics.
Claims and denials have been flying between City Hall, the police department and even the manager’s wife. And one council member said she taped the city manager without his knowledge because she didn’t think other board members would believe their conversation.
Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore said he’s never seen conflict like this in more than 40 years of service to the city. “We’re trying to stop this stuff and get back on a positive line. I feel very positive that we can.”
The City Council met in special session Monday to unseal its minutes of closed sessions on June 19 and July 17. Those minutes, and interviews, provided new details about why City Manager Wayne Herron quit his job after three years.
In June’s closed session, council members discussed a possible performance bonus for Police Chief Debra Duncan. Kilgore said he thought Duncan would be eligible for $28,000 a year in retirement benefits, and that giving her a bonus would help the city, because she might not retire and it would not have to begin paying her $28,000 a year.
Herron recommended against a performance bonus, stating that Duncan would receive a one-time merit bonus that other city employees were eligible to receive. “My final analysis was that I would not pay employees not to retire,” Herron later told the Observer.
In open session, the council voted 4-3 to reject a motion by Councilwoman Dottie Nash to give Duncan a performance bonus.
Duncan has been chief since 2006 and earns $116,771 a year. She received a $3,765 merit bonus this month. The majority of city workers received some form of a one-time merit bonus; they have not had salary increases the past three years, city officials said.
‘Dirty laundry’ in public
By the time the council’s July 17 meeting rolled around, Duncan appeared with her lawyer in closed session.
She said it was not her style to air “dirty laundry” in public, but that people in the community have been telling her they heard she was not doing her job and running to council to complain.
“I cannot stand by and let my reputation and everything that I have worked so hard for be tarnished,” she said, noting that she has been very upset and was recently diagnosed with an ulcer.
Duncan said she went before the board because, the day before, her assistant took an anonymous call from a woman asking if Duncan was in. Then the caller said: “Tell that red-headed b---- that she was going to get hers and that she was going to get hurt.”
The call lasted less than half a minute, Duncan stated, and the number was traced to Herron’s home.
Duncan told the council she could have turned the issue over to the State Bureau of Investigation but chose instead to address the council. Her attorney told the board that if the council sanctioned such behavior, it would be condoning a hostile work environment.
The board then excused Duncan, her lawyer and Herron.
As part of a lengthy discussion at the same meeting, Nash and Kilgore questioned Herron’s veracity. Nash said she could prove everything she was saying about Herron, even with Herron’s own voice.
She later told the Observer she had recorded Herron without his knowledge during a meeting they had on Jan. 31 that touched on Duncan’s compensation. Nash said she had checked that it was legal under state law for one person to tape another without permission.
“When…people don’t believe you, you need to protect yourself,” Nash said, but added, “I think it’s bad that I had to do it that way.”
At least one council member defended Herron in the closed session. But Herron said another councilman approached him later that night about resigning, which he soon did.
Duncan declined to comment about the phone call. When asked about Herron’s resignation, she simply said, “I wish Mr. Herron and his family all the very best.”
No charges were filed about the phone call from the Herrons’ residence with the SBI or local police, city officials said.
In his statement to the Observer, Herron said his wife had called Duncan’s office and expressed “a desire for the drama to stop, due to the recent publicity that in her mind was malignant to her husband and family.” He described the conversation as a “simple phone call”.
Also in the statement, Herron said he has been stressed over issues that have been developing for more than a year, and were related to political disagreements with certain council members over Duncan’s compensation, insurance and potential successor.
In other developments:
• City Council on Monday named Assistant City Manager Greg Demko as interim city manager, and started a search committee for a new manager.
• Under terms of Herron’s employment contract, he is entitled to a lump sum payment equal to his annual salary of $150,654. He received that payment after he resigned last week, Demko said.
• Also under the contract, the city continues to pay life insurance and disability benefits for a maximum of one year, as well as the cost of health insurance for Herron and his dependents, or will obtain and pay COBRA premiums, during that period. The city would not have been obligated to provide the benefits or compensation if Herron had been fired because of conviction of a felony or certain “other detrimental conduct,” according to his contract.
Herron praised his employees, and said his immediate plans are to “try to recover mentally and move on in a positive fashion.”