By Jesse Wood
Sept. 3, 2014. After a bizarre Avery County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the county will be without a county manager indefinitely because of three failed motions – two of which were gridlocked – regarding the nomination of an interim manager.
It had been known for sometime that former County Manager Robert Wiseman would be retiring because of health problems, but that exact date was unknown until Wiseman gave the commissioners one-month notice at its August meeting.
Wiseman’s last day on the job was Aug. 29, and the commissioners couldn’t reach an agreement on an interim manager yesterday.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Glenn Johnson nominated Avery County Board of Commissioner Chair Kenny Poteat to serve as interim county manager for September, October and November.
With a new set of commissioners coming on board after the election, Johnson noted that it would be “presumptive” of this board to select a county manager that would then work with a different board.
While all the commissioners seemed to agree upon allowing the next board the opportunity to choose the next county manager, they just couldn’t come to a consensus on an interim. And it wasn’t necessarily because of political affiliation – all of the board members are Republican.
“For lack of a better term, Mr. Poteat has is head around what is going on [in Avery County] almost better than anybody within the organization,” Johnson said, adding that Cindy Turbyfill, clerk to the board, and Finance Director Tim Greene don’t have solutions to some of the questions and issues that are coming before them in Wiseman’s absence.
“Folks, somebody has to be making these decisions. We can’t, in my opinion, function without a county manager. Like I said, it’s like a ship without a captain. By state statutes, Avery County is a county manager-style government. That means we really need a county manager in place. We have three months until the new board [comes on],” Johnson said.
County Attorney Michaelle Poore noted that the chair or another commissioner who is a “qualified person” is allowed to serve as county manager while also serving as the board and may receive an increase in salary due to an increase in duties.
Commissioner Reo Griffith noted that the search for a full-time county manager will be a long, drawn-out process.
“If we have a full-time county manager on board by the time we go into budget workshops, we’ll be a flying,” Griffith said.
But with “all do respect,” Griffith said he wouldn’t support Poteat becoming the interim county manager.
Griffith added that Greene is essentially the assistant county manager and the reason he hasn’t been able to answer questions that come before him is because he “doesn’t have the authority” to give those answers.
Johnson added that both Turbyfill and Greene are already tasked to the hilt.
“I’ve talked to them both and know that to be true,” Johnson said. “They are overloaded.”
Commissioner Martha Hicks also noted that she talked to Greene before the meeting.
“He pointed out to me that we had said that we was going to get him an assistant to help him in his job and we’ve not done that yet, so if he needs an assistant and here we are talking about putting more onto him, and I really had that in mind today to when I asked him to take this interim job until we could get someone one. But the thing [we should] try not to do, you know, its not good to overload your staff, they can start getting a negative attitude and the first thing you know, they will be hunting another job,” Hicks said, adding that Turbyfill has a stack of papers that have been sitting on her desk for more than a month waiting on a signature from a county manager.
Then Johnson’s motion went to a vote with Poteat recusing himself because of the conflict of interest.
Johnson and Vice Chair Phyllis Forbes voted to appoint Poteat as interim county manager, while Hicks and Griffith opposed that motion.
Then Griffith motioned to appoint Greene as interim county manager [with extra compensation] at least until the first Monday in December. Hicks seconded the motion.
That motioned failed when Forbes, Johnson and Poteat voted against the motion.
“As Mrs. Hicks pointed out very well, we are charged with making important decisions, and folks I know of no other important decision than this right now. This is just asinine in my opinion that we sit here as county commissioners and we can’t get an interim county manager appointed for three months, I might add, for three months. Are we going to continue to spin our wheels. We’ve been spinning our wheels for weeks and even months in one way or another. We could go on and on spin our wheels. We’ve got decisions that have to be made in the next three months,” Johnson said, as he declared he would try his motion again.
After so more discussion and as sort of a last-minute plea, Johnson spoke longwindedly about the integrity of Poteat, who has served as commissioner for two decades:
“I have known Kenny Poteat since we were about five years old, and I am 67 years old. In excess of 60 years and I think everybody here would agree – everybody – you will not find a more honest person than Kenny Poteat. He’s been elected for 20 consecutive years. That didn’t happen because he was a crook.
“It happened because people have put a lot of confidence in him, and I can assure you that Kenny Poteat wouldn’t be doing this job for the money. I truly believe that he is doing it to help this county. I believe he is doing it to help this board in a trying time without a county manager.
“Make no mistake about it, Kenny Poteat has no ulterior motive here, and I will say this he did not seek this job. He had multiple people come to him – multiple members of this board, more than two came to him – and asked if he would be the [interim] county manager, and now we are in a deadlock. But it’s not for ulterior motives. I know that, and I think everyone here knows that.”
Johnson’s motion ended with the same result as his first one. Poteat recused himself. Forbes and Johnson voted to appoint Poteat as interim county manager, and Hicks and Griffith opposed that nomination.
It’s interesting to note that every other agenda item – including small regular business items and headline-worthy items such as the offer to sell the old Banner Elk Elementary School to the Town of Banner Elk – on Tuesday was voted upon unanimously by the board.
And it’s also interesting to note that the two board members that will remain on the board are Hicks and Griffith. Poteat, Forbes and Johnson were not re-elected in the May primary.
Earlier in the meeting, Poteat noted a while back that he “impressed upon Martha and Reo the importance of beginning the manager search” with possibly one of the commissioner elects, which wouldn’t constitute a quorum with only two commissioners meeting together.
Griffith and Hicks confirmed that discussion.
Yet, they haven’t begun the process in finding a new county manager.