Before recognizing some young people in the Swansboro community for their accomplishments, Mayor John Davis opened the Feb. 24 meeting of the Swansboro Board of Commissioners with an admonishment for the town’s elected and appointed leaders.
Reading from a prepared statement – later posted on Facebook – Davis said the town commissioners and advisory board members had treated town staff unfairly.
“The last couple weeks the board and advisory boards have been getting back on their feet,” he stated and posted. When everything seemed to be going along well, “Unfortunately, at (the) last board meeting and at the last planning board meeting, as it was told to me on good account, we slipped into a territory that I admonish this board and all advisory boards to refrain from in the future.”
Contacted for an interview, Davis said he was referring to how one or two commissioners addressed members of the town’s staff during the combined meeting of the commissioners and planning board on Feb. 10.
He declined to name the commissioners to whom he referred.
“I’d rather not get into names,” Davis said. “But there was one … who grilled our staff publicly. I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
Davis noted that in the recent election, some of the winning commission candidates campaigned on better treatment of the staff.
“We should respect our staff and not berate or admonish them in our public meetings or forums,” Davis said in the message delivered at the beginning of the Feb. 24 meeting.
In the message, Davis also said: “We should show them the same respect as we have shown previous staff; otherwise it appears the real issues of the past were personal preference and not truly a desire for respect of the staff.”
The comment was apparently a reference to a number of personnel changes between 2018 and 2019, some of which had been blamed on Davis’ managerial style.
“If the board has an issue with staff it should be brought to the town manager’s attention, and if necessary be taken to closed session,” he said.
Under the N.C. Open Meetings Law, closed-to-the-public meetings are allowed to discuss “personnel.”
Davis also referred to “the laws and behaviors of a commissioner” commissioners have been learning.
“The last couple of weeks it has come to light that you as commissioners may have broken some of these rules, laws, or guidelines,” he said.
In the interview, Davis said that a commissioner – again, he declined to name the commissioner – may have violated state law, or at least protocol,
“We had a commissioner ask a specific favor of one of our staff members,” Davis said. The favor involved sharing information. “They are not able to ask a special favor.”
Davis said the staff is responsible for keeping all board members aware of town business.
“Again, I admonish this board to follow these rules and especially as applies to staff and not creating a situation where a staff member feels pressured to circumvent said rules,” Davis said the Feb. 24 message. “I feel this is unethical and unfair to the staff.”
In the interview, Davis said, “I work very hard to make sure our staff is successful.”
In the message, Davis claims there is a 20- to 25-percent poverty rate in Swansboro. He said the commissioners should focus more on job creation and less on “rules that limit what people can do,”
“I feel like at times we are becoming like the dreaded HOA,” he said.
At the end of the Feb. 24 meeting each member of the board is allowed a time to comment. Commissioner Laurent Meilleur spoke to the mayor.
“I think at the last meeting, your action needed to be called out,” Meilleur said. He was referring to a combined meeting of the board of commissioners and the planning board concerning rules for temporary signs.
At the meeting Meilleur suggested Davis – owner of small businesses – should excuse himself from the discussion and implied that Davis was trying to further an agenda that included relaxing the potential rules.
In his reply to Meilleur, Davis said he was not concerned by the comments at the joint meeting on signs.
“We should be able to comment appropriately,” Davis said.
Davis chose to offer further explanation under board comments. “It had nothing to do with how the board reacts to itself,” Davis added. “This is about our advisory board and this board speaking to our staff.
“Much has been said about how we treat our staff … we are better than that.”
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.