Underhanded ActionBy Robbins Board
Over the past 10 years, the brave and resourceful town of Robbins in northern Moore County has served as a beacon of progressive self-government.
Under the leadership of three mayors - Mickey Brown, Laura Ann Brady and Theron Bell - the town has struggled to keep its head above a flood tide of blows to its economy and carve out a new role for itself.
But the town's Board of Commissioners forfeited some of that positive image last week when its members, while meeting behind closed doors in the best smoke-filled-room fashion, secretly agreed to have Mayor Lonnie English go to Town Manager George Hayfield and quietly deliver a withering message: Resign or be fired.
It may not have legally qualified as a "vote," but the action clearly flew in the face of the spirit of the Open Meetings Law, which forbids official bodies to make decisions in private. They can discuss certain issues in executive sessions, but they have to come out into the open to take a vote, where anyone who wishes to observe can do so.
People Kept in Dark
That was certainly not what happened last week. The people of Robbins, who elect commissioners and have every right to know what decisions they make, were kept totally in the dark about this big one.
The were clueless about any ultimatum until Hayfield happened to go public with it. They still don't know which members initiated or acquiesced in this sorry scheme, and the members themselves have made themselves scarce when asked to be interviewed about the matter.
Maybe an argument can be made that Hayfield deserved firing. We don't know, but we have our doubts. It seems more like a case of newly elected members acting underhandedly, spitefully and in imprudent haste. We do know, judging from what English has said, that board members chose this back-door method out of supposed concern for the manager's feelings, making it look as if he had quit voluntarily. How noble of them.
Out of the Blue
The board said Tuesday that it will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Friday "to consider the town manager position." But it is clear that any "consideration," as such, has already taken place in private and that the outcome is a done deal. The agenda, unlike those for regular board meetings, includes no provision for the public to speak its mind.
Ironically, most members recently expressed disdain at the idea that some of them might meet privately with county commissioners to negotiate a possible water deal. The board won praise for sticking to the principle that the public's business ought to be done in public. So much for that.
Hayfield appears to have been blindsided. To our knowledge, no board members - especially not the two new ones, Mayor English and Commissioner Kevin Stewart, have ever sat in on any session with the manager to discuss concerns about his performance. Neither has raised any public complaint against his work. Nobody in the last town election campaigned on a fire-the-manager platform.
What the board ought to do at Friday's meeting is to apologize and offer Hayfield his old job back, but good luck on that one. Good luck, too, on finding any qualified applicant willing to work for a town that treated its last one so shamefully.
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