Effort to oust town manager fails

Whitaker is on board for another two years

By Kevin Spradlin
PiedmontPostNC.com

SUMMERFIELD — An effort initiated by Summerfield Town Councilman Todd Rotruck to oust Town Manager Scott Whitaker failed Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote.

Rotruck made a motion during agenda item No. 8, “Council and Manager response to comments,” a new feature intended, at least in theory, to allow the town’s elected officials and staff to counter — and correct, if necessary — important or controversial points raised by members of the public during the public comment portion of each public meeting.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker once again came under fire during a public meeting of the mayor and Town Council Tuesday night at the Summerfield Community Center. A motion to not renew his contract failed by a 3-2 vote.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker once again came under fire during a public meeting of the mayor and Town Council Tuesday night at the Summerfield Community Center. A motion to not renew his contract failed by a 3-2 vote.

Rotruck first noted the “passion” with which many members of the public spoke during their time at the podium. The public comment period lasted nearly two hours in a meeting that began at 6:37 p.m. and adjourned at 11:41 p.m.

Rotruck then talked about holding people accountable, and noted that efforts to get the council to discuss Whitaker’s contract, which expires June 11, had failed. He seemed to figure there was no time like the present.

Whitaker’s contract states that if he is not given notice of termination of his employment contract 60 days prior, it is automatically renewed for another two years. Rotruck wanted to stop the automatic renewal. Councilwoman Teresa Pegram seconded the motion, and Mayor Gail Dunham opened the discussion.

Dunham said Whitaker has failed to get a development ordinance passed since he began work in June 2012 even though it was clearly identified as one of the council’s top priorities. Dunham and others also criticized Whitaker for the town’s budget, which has been running at a deficit for at least four of the past five years. O’Day, however, noted that Whitaker has never and cannot pass a budget — that’s a job for the council each year.

Dunham also blasted salary increases Whitaker has been given over the past six years. She urged the council to vote in favor of the 60-day notice in order to renegotiate a contract with Whitaker. Such a vote would not have necessarily meant an automatic termination for Whitaker in mid-June unless the town and Whitaker failed to come to terms on a new contract.

Dunham said she would like to negotiate a new contract “which I think will be far more favorable to the citizens … any other remedies for termination are more complex,” she said.

Dunham also blasted Whitaker for what she perceived to be failures in the town’s work on the Gordon and Martin House buildings. She cited what she believes to be a lack of professionalism in regards to those projects.

“I’m sorry, maybe your heart is in it, but the work hasn’t gotten done,” Dunham said.

Councilman John O’Day, who voted with Mayor Pro Tem Dena Barnes and Councilman Reece Walker to reject Rotruck’s motion, argued that Dunham, as chair of the meeting, should remain impartial and not be at the center of the council’s debate.

Dunham responded that her effort was in response to “citizens’ concerns.”

O’Day also said that Dunham has insulted whitaker “over and over again … for several years.”

“I’m going to do the right thing,” O’Day said, then cast his vote in favor of maintaining the status quo with Whitaker at the helm of the town staff hierarchy.

Rotruck, for his part, said he didn’t like Whitaker’s management style and blamed Whitaker for much of the divisiveness between the incumbent members of the council and Pegram, Dunham and himself, who were elected last November.

Rotruck said he wanted a town manager who would implement and adhere to the town’s policies and procedures. He specifically called Whitaker out for sending a news release in January that, in Whitaker’s eyes, attempted to correct some information Dunham had distributed during a public meeting in January. Rotruck said Whitaker’s release “was misleading in facts,” and it appeared on town letterhead with the names of each member of the council at the bottom. Rotruck said the council never approved the news release.

“This is something the manager initiated on his own,” Rotruck said. “This was not approved. This is not how it works. I think it’s in clear violation of his employment contract to do so.”

Rotruck also accused Whitaker of a “possible ethics violation,” citing an email Whitaker sent to a member of the Timmons Group, the firm leading the regional water authority study, and indicated that Rotruck, Pegram and Dunham had been “vocally opposed” to the regional water authority. Rotruck said Tuesday that, at the time, Whitaker did not know the three newly elected officials’ stance on the matter.

One member of the public shouted that it was “a disgraceful meeting” and the open, public discussion was “a disgraceful way to treat employees.”

Pegram said the issue of whether or not to renew Whitaker’s contract should have been on the agenda for the April 10 meeting since it was the closest meeting before passing the 60-day mark. She then said the town manager “needs to adjust to the new council.”

“You cannot fire the mayor,” Pegram said. “So if we’re having (adversity), let’s stop and look where it’s coming from.”

Pegram then held up a copy of Whitaker’s contract for all to see from a distance. The document is public, she said.

O’Day followed up that Whitaker has “done far more good for this town” but he is “certainly not perfect, no one is.”

“He certainly doesn’t know what the job is today because we haven’t given him good direction,” O’Day said.

Dunham recorded the vote 3-2 against Rotruck’s motion, and then said that “the manager’s contract will be renewed for another two years. My only suggestion is that the name-calling (and the) adversity has to be put aside.”

“Amen,” replied Barnes.

 

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