Robbins Board Forcing Manager Out
Robbins will fire its town manager if he doesn’t resign first, Mayor Lonnie English said Friday.
Town Manager George Hayfield initially said he wouldn’t quit without a severance package. Later in the day, he submitted his letter of resignation to English, who — after speaking by telephone with several commissioners — indicated he thought it would be accepted by the board, Hayfield said.
“I am hereby giving my resignation, effective this day, Jan. 13, 2012, as town manager of the town of Robbins due to the majority of council giving me a vote of no confidence in closed session on Jan. 12, 2012,” Hayfield wrote. “I am giving this resignation on condition of being paid salary through March 15, 2012.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have served the town of Robbins for the past three years and wish the town all the best in the future. I am available for questions by the interim on projects that are at a critical juncture.”
While the letter said the resignation was effective Friday, the commissioners would have to vote to accept it, either in a regular meeting or one specially called.
English, who took over as mayor last month, came to Hayfield’s office Friday morning to tell him he could either resign or be terminated. He gave Hayfield to the end of the day to remove his personal belongings from the town hall.
The surprise move came despite an announcement by English that the board “took no action” in a closed session Thursday night at its regular January meeting. State law requires that votes by town boards take place only in open sessions, but no such action took place Thursday.
Instead, based on an apparent expression of sentiment by a majority of board members in favor of dismissing Hayfield, English sought a letter of resignation from the manager.
“What they wanted me to do, the council, was to talk to him and see if he would resign,” English said. “I did not come in there and fire him. I just told him that the council told me to come in there and ask him if he’d resign, because they were — what was it? — his characteristics were not working for them.”
English did as the board asked.
“I went in and asked him if he would resign, because the board asked me to do that,” he said. “I did tell him the council had their mind made up.”
No final action was taken in that closed session, according to English.
“They didn’t take a vote on it, as far as voting,” English said. “That’s what they all together agreed. They had three votes or more to get rid of him. We felt like it would be in his best interests instead of having ‘terminated’ on his (record) to ask him if he would resign. That’s what I did.
“We asked our lawyer, and he said if he would resign, that might be the best way to handle it. That’s the reason I had the lawyer here in the closed session.”
Doug Gill, of Southern Pines, is the town attorney, but he made no comment on the matter.
“I know the majority of the board wanted to get rid of him, had made their mind up that they were going to fire him,” English said. “We knew we couldn’t make that decision back here. I was trying to save face for George.”
Town and county managers are frequently dismissed, and job loss is considered one of the hazards of the profession. Hayfield said it would make little or no difference to him professionally whether he resigned or was terminated.
He said it will likely hurt the town. He said there are many matters in play of a complicated nature that need immediate and continuing attention.
“There are many things that need to be done on our grant for the new fire station,” Hayfield said. “There is the clean water grant we might be able to get together in time to meet the Feb. 29 deadlines. I doubt anybody new could come in here and get those done in time.”
Robbins stands to lose the federal grant for its new fire station, and is nearly certain to lose a $1.5 million matching grant — at 20 cents on the dollar — the town recently qualified to receive from the state, he said.
“I am not going to resign without a separation package,” Hayfield said Friday afternoon as he prepared to write a letter offering to resign with conditions including such a package. “I am not going to quit. They can fire me if they want to.”
Former Mayor Theron Bell said she was heartbroken about the way the board acted.
“I am very disappointed in the events of this day,” she said in a telephone interview. “That the board has asked our manager to resign or be fired? This is the first meeting of the new year. I am not surprised, but I am very disappointed.”
Dismissing the first experienced town manager in the town’s history will hurt Robbins, Bell said.
“That would have an adverse effect on this town, but that’s just my opinion,” Bell said. “All I ask is for people to be fair, and I do not think this has been fair. I thought it was supposed to be done fairly — I mean publicly. The board is supposed to come out to the public and announce a letter of resignation or that they intend to fire the town manager. I am for open meetings. I have never liked closed sessions, closed meetings.”
In the past year, the commissioners rejected a proposal that a few of its members meet privately with a few county commissioners about a water deal — with the public excluded.
“Everything in this town belongs to the citizens of the town of Robbins,” Bell said. “It does not belong to a very few commissioners or people or the mayor. It belongs to all the people of the town of Robbins. Everything should be done in open session. It is getting more and more bizarre. It is just unbelievable, the events of this day.”
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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