Commissioners clash over hiring process

By Amanda Dodson -

Stokes County Commissioners agreed to fund an economic development director in the 2017-18 fiscal year budget, but the position is currently in limbo after concerns were voiced about following the standard county policy in which the county manager hires the position.

Ty Browder, the county’s attorney, provided the board with legal research earlier this summer and concluded, along with an expert from the School of Government, the appointment should be part of the county manager’s duties.

Commissioner Ronnie Mendenhall disagreed. The commissioner said he’d spoken with people in the community who believed the department heads were hired by the board of county commissioners.

“I, along with my wife, have been questioned about some things regarding hiring. I am saying to you that I feel that 90 percent of the people in Stokes County believe that when a department head or director is hired, it is hired by Commissioner Ronnie Mendenhall and four commissioners.”

The issue was brought up again a month later, at an Aug. 28 meeting.

Commissioner Ernest Lankford said he’d looked further into the issue, and would like the board to get prior approval before hiring department head positions.

Commissioner James Booth said he didn’t want to slow down the process by overseeing each person hired, but would like to play a role in choosing department heads.

“I’ve used the words ‘perception is reality’,” Mendenhall said. “I also have done a lot of homework on this in the last month. My feelings have not changed. I also would like prior approval to these head positions.”

Commissioner Ronda Jones said the issue was bizarre.

“I see this as a liability for the commissioners to be involved in this. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I just don’t think this is wise. I won’t go along with it,” she said. “It feels more like a control thing to me and it just doesn’t pass my sniff test.”

When asked, County Manager Rick Morris explained the process for hiring was done in a structured, fair process that clearly identifies the most qualified candidates.

Jones said she trusted the county manager’s method and believed the recent conversations may be a tactic to stall the hiring of someone.

“We need to be pragmatic and lead this county forward. It’s never been an issue until we got to this position. This is not something we need to be dealing with as commissioners. It’s putting this county at risk. If we did something wrong it could cost us a lot of money in liability. I think what we’ve been doing is fine. Again, I think it’s a tactic to stall on this particular hiring.”

Mendenhall reminded the board he was one of three who voted to fund a full-time economic development director position and in no way, wanted to delay the process.

“I feel very slighted by verbiage and usage of words like ‘bizarre’ and other words that have been thrown out tonight. I’ve only been on the board eight to nine months so I certainly have no previous or prior knowledge of how this board worked in the past,” he said. “I’m looking at the present and going into the future. I will not back off of what I say, no matter what language or words are used. I will not do that and I will stay professional.”

“This position, I believe, needs prior approval from the county commissioners,” he said.

The current hiring policy will be put on the discussion agenda of the upcoming Sept. county commissioners meeting.

Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.

By Amanda Dodson

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