A well-known employee of the city of Mount Airy has been subjected to disciplinary action in recent days, according to sources who say this supposedly is unrelated to a controversial bush-cutting incident involving a city commissioner.
Sources indicated Tuesday that Michella Huff, Mount Airy’s longtime grounds and maintenance supervisor, has been suspended, although this could not be officially confirmed with City Manager Barbara Jones, who oversees such actions.
Huff recently made comments critical of action by Commissioner Shirley Brinkley on July 26, when Brinkley launched an impromptu landscaping operation on the grounds of the Andy Griffith Playhouse on Rockford Street. Brinkley cut what she said were dead bushes and trimmed shrubs the commissioner claimed were being “neglected.”
Since the Andy Griffith Playhouse and grounds are owned by the municipality, such work normally is handled by the landscaping crew led by Huff. Brinkley has said her actions in undertaking the task herself were no reflection on the performance of Huff, but were aimed at helping with work needing to be done.
Huff said after it occurred she was surprised by what Brinkley did and indicated that damage had resulted.
“It was very disappointing to see something my staff had put in so many years and hours working on” cut to the ground, she said the day after the incident. “I’m a plant lover, so that was tough for me to see.”
Brinkley re-addressed the matter during last Thursday night’s city council meeting. Among other statements, this included a disclosure that the plants had been bought by the Surry Arts Council, which occupies the playhouse.
“The items I cut and trimmed did not belong to the city — thus no financial loss to the city,” Brinkley said while also expressing “regret” over the publicity generated by the event.
After Thursday night’s meeting, a rumor began circulating that Huff no longer was employed by the city, which raised eyebrows due to its timing in relation to Brinkley’s statement.
Jones, the city manager, and Catrina Alexander, Mount Airy parks and recreation director — under whose department the landscaping unit falls, did not respond to multiple messages left Monday and Tuesday seeking information about any disciplinary measure concerning Huff.
However, one city government insider said Tuesday that Jones had contacted the five members of the board of commissioners to notify them of action involving the grounds and maintenance supervisor.
“She is still with the city,” one source definitively said of Huff. However, that individual indicated that other disciplinary action — which another person with knowledge of the matter said was a suspension — had occurred.
Jones was asked during her contacts with board members if this was related to the Brinkley matter. “And the answer was no,” one of the sources said.
The length of the apparent suspension also has not been mentioned, or whether it is with or without pay.
Huff didn’t respond to a voice-mail message left on her cell phone Tuesday seeking comment.
She is a highly regarded employee often praised for the welcoming appearance of Mount Airy to tourists through her overseeing of the various floral displays and planters located around town.
Huff is a certified arborist and horticulturist and a past president of the Southern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.