Robbins to Discuss Manager at Friday Meeting
The Robbins town commissioners will hold a special called meeting at 6 p.m. Friday “to consider the town manager position.”
Unlike agendas for regular meetings of the board, there is no provision for “public address to the council” or “comments by commissioners.”
The departure of George Hayfield as town manager — under pressure from a new majority on the Town Board — has Robbins in a state of uncertainty, with Police Chief Jeff Sheffield trying to hold things together as best he can. He had been working double as he tries to fill a vacancy in his own department.
Last week, new Mayor Lonnie English called him to ask if he could act as manager in the meantime.
“I am stressed,” Sheffield said. “I am splitting duty right now. I told dispatch if they can’t get me on the radio, call my cellphone.”
He was at Town Hall preparing to tackle the manager’s work while — at the same time — on call as chief.
“I am in the town manager’s office trying to figure what in the world is going on,” Sheffield said. “Right now, I really don’t know what’s going on. I was called Friday after I got up. I was asked to fill in as interim until they could hire somebody.”
He has received no town manager training.
“I am just trying to keep things, everyday stuff, operations going on,” he said. “(Town employees) are comfortable with me going on. I just walked in here. I am going to have a meeting with them at 9 a.m. and just advise them we are going to work together.”
He said he doesn’t know if doing the town manager’s job will mean getting town manager pay.
“I hope they are going to compensate me; they better,” he said. “I am going to tell them real quickly they better pay me something. It’s like I told ’em: I am a law-enforcement officer. I will do what I can to help this town, because it’s my hometown; and I love it. I’ll do what I can to help. This hiring process needs to go ahead and start today, if you ask me.”
Sheffield said he doesn’t know which commissioners wanted to get rid of Hayfield or why.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Sheffield said. “I thought he was doing his job, to be honest with you.”
Sheffield said he had stressed that his principal responsibility is public safety, not public administration.
“I was up front with them about that,” he said. “We are down one officer now, and we are in the process of trying to get a full-time officer hired. We are still in that process.”
Chelsea Thomas, the finance officer, said Robbins has an annual $45,000 salary appropriation for a manager in its budget. Hayfield’s conditional letter of resignation stipulated two months severance pay. No board action to amend the budget to provide for it could take place in the absence of a meeting.
Questions are floating as to whether — until there is some official action accepting his terms or to fire him — Hayfield remains manager or not, and whether Sheffield has legal authority to act as manager without board action.
Town Clerk Lisa Williams said they were waiting to hear from the UNC School of Government and the town attorney.
Board members could not be reached by telephone or did not return calls, or would make no comment. English told Hayfield Friday that the terms of his conditional resignation were acceptable. However, it would have to be voted on in a meeting.
“That’s exactly true,” English said.
While other towns — like Carthage — have designated someone as immediate interim successor to the manager in case of necessity, Robbins has not made such provision.
“I’ve got to read the book, but I think the board has to put — approve — someone in there for the time being,” English said. “I’ll have to go get the book, but I don’t remember that specifically in the ordinance.”
In early December, English took the new mayor class run by the N.C. League of Municipalities (NCLM) with instructors from the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill. At that session, Vaughn M. Upshaw, UNC lecturer in public administration and government, strongly advised new mayors and commissioners not to fire town managers soon after taking office.
“To be honest with you, I heard that lady say those exact words in that training class,” he said. “Let me tell you one thing: I have been a manager for a long time. They could walk in and fire me today.”
According to Ellis Hankins, executive director of the NCLM, the league always gives that advice during its new mayor orientation sessions. Those sessions split into groups, with manager/council town officials meeting separately from those from mayor/council towns.
“The purpose is to give them some information and let them talk with each other about leading a town as mayor,” he said. “It is to give them some things they really, really need to know — like about the open meetings law and the public records statutes, town finances and other things.”
He said voters want their mayors to know all they can, so they can do the best job possible.
“Yes, we always do stress that the manager works for the elected officials,” Hankins said. “When new people get elected, if they don’t like what the manager did in the past, we always stress that it is only fair for the new elected officials to give him or her an opportunity to hear and learn what they see as priorities and what policies they want to put in place and to give that manager a fair opportunity to carry out the new policies — tell them what their expectations are, and meet with them about how it’s going — before they talk about firing the manager.”
English informed Hayfield on Friday that he could resign or be fired the morning after the first regular session of the Town Board since he and Kevin Stewart took office. Hayfield never had any opportunity to meet with either one about his performance at a meeting.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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