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Poe clarifies view about Mitchell's resignation

Photo submitted
Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe

Originally published: Aug. 29, 2013
Last modified: Aug. 29, 2013

Adam Orr

Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe clarified her view on the recent forced resignation of former Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell Monday morning during a special commissioner session to discuss personnel.

Mitchell announced her resignation Aug. 20, effective Aug. 31, following a 3-2 vote by county commissioners on Aug. 19, seeking the end of her employment.

Ashe County Commissioners Judy Poe, Gary Roark and Gerald Price voted to ask Mitchell for her resignation or face termination following a 40-minute executive session on personnel issues Aug. 19, according to Mitchell. Commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands voted in opposition.
Mitchell was also given the option to retire, she said.

The resignation also ends Mitchell’s employment as Ashe County Director of Economic Development, a role she has held since 2004.

During Monday’s special session, Roark made a motion to immediately terminate Mitchell’s employment as Ashe County Manager and Economic Developer on Aug. 26, five days earlier than commissioners had first stipulated.

“Further, Dr. Mitchell will not receive compensation for vacation, sick leave, comp time, overtime or any other monies possibly due her until all information concerning expenses Dr. Mitchell may have incurred after 8 a.m. Aug. 20, 2013,” Roark continued. “The full expense report will be received by the financial officer of the county of Ashe. Also all reports will be reviewed by the full board of commissioners prior to any payment made to Dr. Mitchell.”

The motion was approved 3-1, with Poe, Price and Roark voting in support and Rhodes in opposition. Sands, who was at a doctor’s appointment, did not vote.

Following the submission of her resignation on Aug. 20, Mitchell traveled to Raleigh to meet with Ernie Pearson, the economic development attorney representing Ashe County in the GE expansion project, according to Mitchell.

“I also had a previously scheduled meeting at the NC Rural Center to discuss the Department of Commerce and the many changes in that entity brought about by legislation passed by the NC General Assembly,” Mitchell said in a Aug. 21 letter to county commissioners. “The County's interest at the Rural Center is that we were granted a $500,000 building grant for the GE project and that grant is not yet under contract, though it does appear on the books of the soon to be closed Rural Center.”

Mitchell said she attended the meeting to ensure that the $500,000 remains on the records of the Rural Center so that, as they transition to close down, the NC Department of Commerce “recognizes that Ashe County has those funds obligated to meet the agreement that the Ashe County Board of Commissioners presented to GE Aviation.”

Mitchell said she was in Raleigh to ensure that the entire obligation the BOC voted on for the GE expansion project does not “fall through the cracks,” as the Rural Center transitions to a new entity.
Rhodes said Tuesday he gave Mitchell authorization to make the trip to Raleigh, and said he takes full responsibility if his interpretation of the commissioners Aug. 19 motion was incorrect.

“Pat told me last week that she had a meeting in Raleigh,” Rhodes said. “My understanding from the motion ... was that she still had access to all equipment, her car and phone, until (5 p.m. Aug. 23). That’s how I interpreted it, so I said, ‘Pat, you’re still being paid, and you have access, so I have no problem with your trip to Raleigh.”

Poe's response
“I thought we had covered this pretty well in our last meeting,” Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe said. “Apparently, some people decided to take their own interpretation.”

Poe also addressed what she called, “rumors floating around the courthouse,” since the board’s forced resignation of Mitchell, that the board may be in “political jeopardy.”

“I don’t know why anybody gets pleasure out of spending such rumors as this around the county,” Poe said. “I’ve heard county employees are going to stage a sit-in, that they’re going to protest this,” Poe said.

“To the county employees I say, you have jobs. There are thousands of Ashe County people that would be glad to come and put in an application for anybody that wants to quit as county employee,” Poe said.

Budget discussions
Recently discussed by commissioners, according to Poe, is “the future budget...not changing the budget.”

“We know we cannot change the budget, once we set those figures there,” Poe said. “But you can look at the expenses that have not been committed to and not spent, and freeze those commitments. We do this in our personal life and we’ve done this many times I’ve been on this board. This is nothing new.”

On Aug. 5, Poe, Sands and Roark, voiced their support to re-evaluate the county’s 2013/14 budget less than two months since the board approved the final budget on June 18.

The process was originally scheduled to begin on Aug. 20, until Mitchell’s departure forced Rhodes to reconsider the review’s timing.

On Aug. 13, Poe told the Ashe Mountain Times the board has never undertaken such a comprehensive review of the county budget this soon after its original passage. but said the move is necessary in light of Gate’s closing.  

“There hasn’t been a time when we’ve wanted to go back and take a second look at the budget like this,” Poe said. “There have been times we’ve wanted to implement purchasing freezes, things like that, but we’ve not gone back and looked at each item.”

Poe further said, “Raises for county employees might need to be put on hold until we’ve got a chance to go over and look at everything again.”

In an email Monday morning, Poe also addressed a question posed by local media about a recent meeting between herself and Mitchell.

“Mitchell called and ask me to come in to office to discuss some issues,” Poe wrote. “I have done this many times over the past nine years. Mitchell asked me what my concerns about budget (expenses) were since I was the only commissioner that had any issues. I assured her that I was not the only one.”

Poe said Mitchell asked why other commissioners were talking to her, to which she responded, “After four years as chairman, and now vice chair, is it not the role of the board chair and vice chair to address concerns of other board members? This is not to say a commissioner has to go through chair and vice chair. Is that not what leadership is about?”

Poe also said Mitchell’s resignation letter, and the way it was delivered to local news media instead of the full board of commissioners, and how the “economic development community was notified of her dismissal, shows the contempt that the former county manager had for the full board of commissioners, the same board which were her employers.”

Mitchell said she had always had a good working relationship with Poe, and said the meeting in question was requested after she had heard criticisms of the commissioners decision to revisit the budget during Appalachian State University Chancellor Kenneth Peacock’s Economic Development Listening Tour at Jefferson Landing on Aug. 13.

“This is not unusual — when I hear concerns in the community, I’ve always tried to contact commissioners one on one to express the public’s concerns,” Mitchell said. “I had heard some criticisms made when I attended Chancellor Peacock’s event, questioning why (commissioners) were going back to revisit the budget.”

Mitchell said she did not remember asking Poe why she was speaking with other commissioners, but said Poe did share with her that she was communicating with Roark and Price about county personnel issues.

Roark and Price could not immediately be reached for comment.

“All her questions were personnel related,” Mitchell said. “She was questioning the county’s longevity pay, what the pay plan is, and could they cut out what they already put in this year?”

Mitchell said some questions were so detailed that she had copies of the county’s personnel policy delivered to commissioners homes on Aug. 15-16.

“If I was going to conduct a budget review with them, if I was going to bring good information to them, I needed to know what all (commissioner’s) questions were,” Mitchell said. “If you go back to the way I approach things, my training, I had a professor that said the more information you bring to the table, the better decisions you’re likely to make.”

“So, if we were going to do a good thorough review, I needed to know how they wanted me to do that,” Mitchell said, “and what info they wanted brought to the table, but all I could get were personnel questions.”
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.