MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. -- County Manager Harry Jones, increasingly at odds with some of his bosses, is set to meet with county commissioners in closed session Tuesday and could offer a proposal to step down earlier than he had intended.
Jones had told county commissioners he wanted to work until the end of 2015, when he’s 65.
The county manager does have at least three supporters on the nine-member board. But disputes with Jones – largely over his management style – have other commissioners wanting a change sooner.
Jones’ future could become clearer during the private session just before Tuesday’s regular meeting, according to some commissioners who asked not to be named because it is a personnel matter.
One commissioner said the board wouldn’t take any action Tuesday.
Jones didn’t return a call from the Observer on Monday.
Commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham, a Democrat, declined to discuss the issue. “This is all a personnel matter and I am not at liberty to talk about it,” she said.
But it’s clear that she and other commissioners haven’t been happy with Jones’ leadership.
Tension between Jones and the board grew after commissioners denied Jones a pay raise in November.
The months of public criticism over the flawed 2011 revaluation was aimed mostly at a perceived lack of supervision by Jones and top administrators. In early January, Cotham and other commissioners were upset after the county nearly lost oversight of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid money for mental health services.
Jones hired an outside lawyer and the county successfully fought the state’s decision to transfer the money to an out-of-county agency.
Still, some commissioners were upset that they learned about the matter when the public did – and admonished Jones for what they called a continuing pattern of withholding important information from the board.
Then last week, Cotham criticized Jones and his managers again for delaying by more than four months their recruitment of a new director for the county’s troubled Department of Social Services. The agency has been without a director since last September.
Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said Jones has achieved “some great successes” during his 13 years as county manager.
“But in recent years, there have been a number of challenges,” said Ridenhour, who declined to talk about Tuesday’s meeting. “Regardless of when his tenure ends with the county, I’d like to see him end on a positive note.”
Jones has complained that Cotham won’t return his calls.
In an email to commissioners last Friday, Jones thanked Cotham for “finally connecting to me. Not on the matter I have called you about, however.”
In the same email, he said board clerk Janice Paige had called her “without the courtesy of a return call.”
One commissioner said Jones told the board two weeks ago he was going to consult with a lawyer and would be prepared to talk about his job on Tuesday.
Commissioner Bill James, a Republican, declined to comment on the Tuesday meeting. But he said concerns over Jones’ performance have been a factor in splitting the board’s six Democrats into two bickering factions.
“Harry is, in essence, a cause of fracture on the board, especially among the Democrats,” James said. “Three want Harry to stay, no matter what. Three don’t.”
Jones’ supporters on the board – Commissioners George Dunlap, Dumont Clarke and Vice Chair Kim Ratliff – have taken verbal shots at Cotham. At a board meeting in February, Ratliff publicly chided Cotham for taking part in a meeting with two other commissioners and county-hired revaluation consultants.
“It seems as if there is a double standard here,” Ratliff wrote in an email. “As the chair (Cotham) in the past has talked about a lack of communication from the county manager and staff, she in fact is doing the same.”
She urged board members to stop “micromanaging” Jones and publicly “berating” staff.
Cotham said the meeting was requested by property owners, who brought the consultants from Pearson’s Appraisal Service. “They requested the meeting, and I’ll meet with anyone who wants to meet with me,” she said. “That’s what we do as public servants.”
James has watched the sniping with a certain bemusement.
“Usually, it’s the Democrats ganging up on the Republicans – and normally on me,” he said. “It’s unusual that a faction of the Democrats are in a position that they’re beating up on a Democratic chairman they just elected.”