Lake Warden Contract Renewal Blues

February 21, 2019 Off By Jay Hubbard

The last item Commissioner Caudle brought to the Board of Commissioners at the meeting on February 4, 2019, was the need to renew the lake warden’s contract. The lake warden is a part time position contracted by the town to manage day-to-day boating and fishing activities at the Kermit G. Pell Water Based Recreation Facility, better known as Ramseur Lake. The warden also operates the bait shop as a semi-private enterprise, selling refreshments, bait, and tackle from the shop.

Commissioner Caudle suggested that the board simply renew last year’s contract with Keith Sykes, but Commissioner Cheek, ever the contrarian, objected, insisting that all contracts must be advertised. Mr Cheek implied that several applications for the position had  already been submitted, but later in the conversation the Town Clerk clarified that only ONE application had been received. 

At one point during that exchange, Town Clerk Bobbie Hatley was asked how long the position needed to be advertised. She replied that she would post it for as long as the board told her to. That leads this observer to believe that there must not be a specified length of time this contract needs to be posted. Perhaps such a position doesn’t have to be posted at all, I don’t know. I do think we’d all appreciate clarification on that point from an expert in NC municipal law. Citations will be needed.

After further discussion – which is difficult to follow on the video because the board members do not speak into their microphones consistently – the board voted to advertise the position for ten days.

Mayor Shaw then asked Commissioner Caudle about how the interview process would be conducted. The commissioner stated that last year she interviewed applicants over the telephone and then brought her recommendation to the board; which was confirmed by Clerk Hatley. Mayor Shaw then began searching for a date to call a special meeting to resolve the issue and Monday, February 18th, at 5:30pm was accepted by the board and they moved on to other business.

Fast forward two weeks…

A total of three applications were submitted. At the meeting on February 18th, Commissioner Caudle began by stating that she never received any applications as agreed upon at the February 4th meeting.  She had visited the municipal building on Saturday morning, February 16th, for scheduled baseball sign ups, and found no applications placed in her mailbox, nor had any been emailed to her.

Almost immediately Commissioner Grant Cheek began attempting to lay blame at Commissioner Caudle’s feet, ignoring the fact that both he and Clerk Hatley are in the office all day almost every day of the week. In fact, Ms. Hatley sent out an email on Friday, the 15th, telling all the commissioners about legal documents delivered that day by counsellor Wilhoit’s office, which had been placed in their mailboxes.

Commissioner Caudle pointed out that every other document she has received from the office since becoming a commissioner has been placed in her mailbox or emailed. When asked why these documents were not handled in the same manner, Ms. Hatley responded that she, “did not know,” she was supposed to place the applications in the Commissioner’s mailbox. This is basic stuff, and Bobbie Hatley is more competent than that.

If every other piece of information intended for commissioners has always been emailed or placed in their mailboxes, where did these three applications end up spending the weekend? Were they on the counter in the main office? In the clerk’s office? The mayor’s office? What part of standard operating procedure was not followed, and most importantly, why?

Mayor Shaw then asked the clerk, not the attorney, if all commissioners are supposed to have an opportunity to review the applications and participate in the interview process; questions one would think our long serving mayor would know the answers to, and would have raised during the initial discussion at the regular meeting two weeks prior.

By this point I’d had about all I could stand of Shaw and Cheek’s blatant effort to derail Commissioner Caudle’s work and I spoke out of turn, noting that what the mayor was suggesting is not what the board voted to do on February 4th. Mayor Shaw informed me that this was a meeting of the Board of Commissioners and asked that I keep my opinions to myself. He was right; it was a meeting of the commissioners, so why was he, the longest serving member of the current board, asking a clerk’s opinion on how the board should conduct its business? Is he ignorant of how things like this – an issue which recurs every year – should be handled?

Commissioner Cheek then spoke about how all the commissioners are supposed to get to interview candidates for positions in any department, which Commissioner Caudle pointed out is categorically untrue, as she has never been invited to interview anyone for any position outside her own departments.

Mayor Shaw then suggested wasting the time of everyone present by postponing the vote until later in the week. Commissioner Caudle insisted that the board resolve the issue as planned; pointing out that she cannot move forward with opening the lake until the warden’s contract is settled.

Shortly thereafter the board voted to enter closed session. A few minutes later they returned to open session long enough to vote, 4-0, to renew Mr. Sykes’s contract.

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