Ashe County demands accountable governance
That’s what Ashe County deserves after the Board of Commissioners, without debate or pretext, gave County Manger Dr. Pat Mitchell the ultimatum Monday – quit or be fired.
Commissioners Judy Poe, Gary Roark and Gerald Price, in a late open session Monday, moved for and voted on Mitchell’s dismissal with apparently premeditated efficiency, while Larry Rhodes and Williams Sands offered their stunned dissent.
No explanation was offered. None. Not to Mitchell, and not to the people of Ashe County before or after such a significant decision.
This is exactly what happened to former county manager Dan McMillan.
But when McMillan was shown the door, everyone suspected it was politics: He is an unapologetic Democrat, and the board is a solid Republican bloc.
Not so with Mitchell. We’d challenge anyone in this county to try and guess Mitchell’s politics.
First class county managers don’t play politics; they are professionals, administrators and chief executives of policy established by the commissioners.
Despite what everyone considered as the obvious explanation for McMillan, the public never got a straight answer on the real reason he was forced to resign. To this day, the commissioners have offered no explanation.
When asked, they offered the bland excuse of it being a “personnel matter” and one therefore they couldn’t comment on.
Fair enough. The county manager serves at the pleasure of the board, and could as well be sacked based on eye color as any other reason.
But Dr. Mitchell was a competent, professional, hard-working executive who made many more friends than enemies. Ashe County deserves, and should demand, a full accounting of Mitchell’s forced resignation from its elected officials.
This is the second well-qualified, popular county manager forced out by the board in the last two years. Does this personnel juggling not call into question their fitness to govern?
And what exactly is Judy Poe, who voted in Pat Mitchell, looking for in a county manager?
With Poe, Price and Roark now moving in silent concert, are they in the market for a compliant yes-man?
The current board inherited McMillan, but they chose Mitchell. They picked her after a five month search for McMillan’s replacement with her serving as interim manager. Shouldn’t they have had some idea of Mitchell’s pros and cons when they asked her to step into the top spot? What was the ugly surprise?
The Post covers all open commission meetings, and at no time in the last 18 months has there been any public indication Mitchell was not performing her duties as expected. Despite the outward appearance, there may have been legitimate doubts about Mitchell’s performance: why not out with it?
Was the administrator following board instructions? Was the manager undermining the board’s authority? Had the manager lost the confidence of county employees? Had the manager lost the trust of the board and the public?
If the answer is yes to any of these, then the board may have acted appropriately.
But if the three commissioners who engineered this vote don’t or won’t answer those questions, there is nothing the public can do to force them to offer an explanation. Their silence will only perpetuate what appears to be a dysfunctional county board of commissioners.
Let’s face facts: on matters of substance the commissioners rarely agree. The commissioners couldn’t even unanimously agree on this year’s annual budget, with Price and Roark voting against adoption.
This county is facing serious economic challenges. Over the last 12 months, two of the county’s largest employers have announced layoffs. We’ve dipped into our fund balance to the tune of $2-3 million in each of the last five years.
We need leadership. Effective, transparent, and accountable leadership.
If the county commissioners want to take a positive step forward and demonstrate that leadership, providing clear and immediate explanations for their decisions is imperative.
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