First Posted: 4/20/2015
DOBSON — A week after Surry County’s Inspections Department head Gray Bryant chose to walk away from his position the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted to eliminate another position in his former department.
The board voted 3-1 to eliminate the addressing and permitting position in his former department. The position was held by Commissioner Jimmy Miller’s daughter, Elizabeth Burton.
The vote came after a lengthy and apparently heated closed session meeting of the board on Monday night. With Miller abstaining, Commissioners R.F. “Buck” Golding, Larry Phillips and Eddie Harris voted in favor of eliminating the job. Commissioner Paul Johnson cast the lone vote against the motion.
Assistant County Manager Sandra Snow said the position was eliminated because there was no longer a need for it. However, Snow stopped short of denying that Bryant’s recent retirement was associated with last night’s personnel move.
Bryant says that his sudden retirement after 42 years on the county’s payroll was related to the elimination of Burton’s position. Bryant says that he “didn’t like the way they were treating her [Bryant].” He went on to say the situation brought him to the conclusion that “it was time to hang it up.”
According to Bryant he and Snow had recently rewritten the position’s job description. He said that the position had responsibilities including addressing, writing permits, coordinating inspections and answering phone calls. Bryant says that he was happy with the employee’s performance and went on to say “somebody is going to have to do that work.”
The matter of Bryant’s retirement was not addressed at length at Monday night’s Board of Commissioners meeting. While Snow presented other matters to the board she asked county commissioners for the authority to appoint Bryant’s interim replacement.
Phillips says his perspective of the county’s vote on Burton’s position is “it was the elimination of a position” that the county “simply did not need.” Phillips said the closed session was held, in part, so commissioners could look at a possible lateral move for the displaced employee. Phillips says that is common practice in such instances.
Phillips also stated that the county is attempting to overhaul its inspections and permitting procedures, stating that inspections take place too slowly to meet the needs of Surry County residents.
Harris says the move was made after the board learned of “several issues that may have been going on there.” However, he referred any further questions regarding the actions of the board to Board Chairman Golding and questions regarding personnel to Snow.
Miller says the matter of eliminating his daughter’s position first came to his attention about four weeks ago. Miller, who abstained from voting on the matter, believes there might be some political motivation behind the move.
Johnson, who cast the lone vote against the personnel change, said the reason he voted against eliminating Burton’s job is “the way management and the other commissioners went about the process of eliminating the position.” Johnson went on to state that “commissioners don’t usually get involved at that level,” adding that commissioners are normally only involved in decisions about the employment of county administration and department heads.
Johnson went on to say the process was handled improperly and that he would have voted against the motion “no matter whose daughter it was.”
Additionally, Johnson claims that the county hired an employee on April 15 with a job description similar to Burton’s. Johnson, like Miller, believes that the personnel move may have been politically motivated. However, neither Johnson nor Miller would elaborate.
The personnel issue first came into the public light following a closed session on April 14. At that meeting a closed session discussion spilled over into regular session. When Harris attempted to stop the discussion, County Attorney Ed Woltz corrected him, saying “we are talking about an employee number and position.” Woltz went on to explain that the issue was one for open session.
Harris, citing the late hour, then made a motion to adjourn. The board agreed to take up the issue again at its next meeting, which was held Monday evening.
On Tuesday Woltz offered an in-depth explanation as to the circumstances surrounding the elimination of Burton’s position and what was discussed in closed session. According to Woltz, Burton’s position was under the inspections department, but the position was physically moved to the tax department. There, Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove had said that his department could handle the workload without the position.
Woltz says that at that point the board of commissioners decided to transfer the position to the tax department then eliminate it. Commissioners then moved into open session to transfer the position and subsequently eliminate it.
Golding, Snow and County Manager Chris Knopf could not be reached for any follow-up comment.