Robbins Board Divided in Accepting Manager's Resignation
Robbins Town Manager George Hayfield’s resignation was accepted in a contentiously split decision Friday night at a special meeting of the Town Board.
He had been given the ultimatum by new Mayor Lonnie English to “resign or be fired” Jan. 13, the day after the board’s regular monthly meeting. English informed Hayfield that it was clear during a closed session that a majority of board members wanted to dismiss him.
Under the circumstances, Hayfield resigned effective Jan. 13 on condition of receiving two months of severance pay. He cleared his personal belongings from Town Hall that day. He was present for the meeting Friday but did not speak.
The board voted 3-2 to accept Hayfield’s resignation and approve the severance pay. Terri Holt made the motion and was joined by Claire Barron and Kevin Stewart to approve it over strong objections from Joey Boswell and Rocky Davis.
Former Mayor Theron Bell called it a sad day for Robbins. Other residents in attendance at the meeting cheered and applauded the two commissioners who opposed the decision.
Holt, Barron and Stewart gave no reasons for wanting to get rid of Hayfield during the meeting, but English did have a written statement.
“In the last week, we had words twisted in meaning and torn from context,” English said. “You know this has become mere tools for ego building. But it is for sure I was elected by the people of Robbins Nov. 9, 2011, and my goal is to serve the people honestly and to the best of my ability until the next election in November 2015 or unless the good Lord takes me home.”
The Town Hall was crowded for the meeting. Members of the audience included new Carthage Mayor Lee McGraw. Doug Gill, of Southern Pines, the town attorney, attended as well.
After calling the meeting to order, English asked if there was any motion on Hayfield’s conditional resignation. Holt moved it be accepted and the severance pay granted.
Local businessman Joe White asked if he could speak, but English told him he could not. Only commissioners could discuss the motion on the floor.
Boswell looked across to Hayfield where he sat in a far corner of the room next to former Town Commissioner Mark Garner.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for the town,” Boswell said. “I want you to know that I’ll always admire you.”
Many in the audience applauded when he finished. Then Davis — who is public works director of Carthage — spoke up.
“I’d like to say the same thing, George,” Davis said. “You did a pretty good job. You were doing what you were asked to do. I am not sure some of the actions of this board were even morally or ethically correct. For a little bit, I would walk away from this board. But I am afraid what they might do.”
Silence and a stillness filled the room then. Finally, after a moment, Stewart spoke.
“The town attorney was with us (referring to the Jan. 12 closed session), and I don’t think we were doing anything improper,” Stewart said. “We thought it in the best interest of George, and best to make the best out of a bad situation. George, I wish you the best. I do not have a personal vendetta against you, and … As I say, I wish you the best.”
With no further discussion, English called for the vote on accepting Hayfield’s resignation. After it was approved, English then called for a motion to appoint Police Chief Jeff Sheffield as interim manager.
After making that motion, Boswell asked Sheffield if taking on these additional duties would put too much strain on his law-enforcement duties.
“I am not going to lie to you,” Sheffield said. “It is going to be tough. But, it is my hometown. I grew up here, was raised here. I love this town. Whatever I can do to help this town, I’ll do it. I hope it’s not a long, drawn-out process. I am still trying to get a full time officer hired, and I am having to work shifts — just like today — but I will do my best.”
Boswell said he would help Sheffield any way he could.
“The only thing, just remember I am a law-enforcement officer,” Sheffield said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
The board agreed to raise Sheffield’s salary to that budgeted for the town manager, which effectively means an increase of $250 a month to do both jobs. That will save the town of Robbins $3,500 a month while a search for a permanent replacement for Hayfield is under way.
His appointment was approved on that basis after English checked with Gill to be sure it was proper to discuss salaries in open session. The meeting was adjourned at that point.
After the meeting, an angry White called the action of the board “stupid.”
“I am going to tell you right now, I am going to be at every meeting, and I am going to hold you to everything, and if there is one thing wrong … that will be it!” White told Barron, who made no response. “Now that’s the way it’s going to be. If you all can’t run this board and work with this town and tell the people what’s going on — instead of just firing somebody out — I just don’t understand a board like this. This is about stupid. That’s just the way I feel about it, and the rest of the people in town feel the same way.”
Later that night, in a telephone interview, Stewart again said he had nothing personal against Hayfield as he had told him during the meeting. At-tempts to reach him the week before had been directed to an incorrect number, but Stewart said he isn’t hiding his reasons for wanting Hayfield out.
“I wished him well,” Stewart said. “I’ll be glad to talk to any citizen of Robbins. I based my decision on the manager’s performance over time.”
Stewart is new to the board, but he said he had attended every meeting from the time he filed to run.
“There were too many complaints from citizens, too much conflict at planning board meetings,” he said. “Everything they came up with, he (Hayfield) would say, ‘You can’t do that.’ The board was ready to dissolve.”
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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