Council members have mixed reaction to Fox Report

Nepotism, meddling with staff alleged by anonymous interviewees
Feb. 09, 2013 @ 08:47 AM

Monroe City Council released a redacted version of the $50,000 report to analyze the relationship between council and city managers Tuesday night. 

The analysis and report were created by Anthony Fox, Sarah Hutchins and Mary Crosby with the law firm Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein. 

The team interviewed more than 24 current and former city employees along with each member of city council, with the exception of Council member Billy Jordan. In addition to the interviews, the team of attorneys looked at minutes from meetings, files and records, according to the introduction to the report. 

All of the interviews use the masculine pronoun, regardless of the gender of the interviewee, in order to maintain confidentiality.

A few themes emerged from the series of interviews. They included issues of nepotism within the city, micromanagement, a lack of vision for the city and the need for a clear separation between the city council and the city manager, among other concerns.

Many of the interviewees were concerned about confidentiality and the possibility of retribution for participating. On Tuesday night, city council passed a resolution prohibiting such retaliation by a vote of 4-3, with Council members Dottie Nash, Billy Jordan and Mayor Bobby Kilgore voting against the resolution.

Many interviewee's discussed Nash's husband and son, who are employed by the Monroe Police Department. A few other interviewees mentioned Nash's future daughter-in-law who works for the city and a former girlfriend of her son who worked for the city.

"Nepotism within the City was discussed by this individual," a summary with interviewee three reads. "This individual shared that family members of Council member Nash are employed by the City. He was aware of an individual's association with Dottie Nash. The (redacted) was hired for the position. This person indicated that the City staff felt constrained by Council's relationship to the applicant and could not be objective in the hiring decision and that if the decision had been his, this applicant would not have been hired." 

Interviewee three added that the organization could operate better with a more "hands-off" approach from council. 

Nash issued a statement in response to the study. 

"It would seem that I am guilty of nepotism because my son is a police officer here in Monroe," Nash wrote. "He is a certified officer that was working in Matthews when the city had a position come available. (Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan) had met my son at SPCC during rookie school. She asked him if he would be interested in applying." 

Nash's son appeared before an interview board before being hired, the statement said. About five years later, he son was moved to the detective division, which is considered a lateral transfer because there is no increase in payment. 

"My son makes no more than the average officer with his experience," Nash wrote. 

Monroe had a policy that prohibited any relatives from working together in a department. The rule was later changed to allow relatives to work in the same department as long as there is no supervisory chain of command. 

Council member John Ashcraft said he did not have a problem with a nepotism policy. 

"(Nepotism) exists," Ashcraft said. "Is it a problem? I'm not involved in it. I don't have a family member involved in it. I can see where it's possible, your decision-making process can somewhat be clouded if it's an affecting area." 

Jordan did not think nepotism was a problem in the city. He said the city has a committee that selects people who interview who apply for jobs. 

"It is completely separated from anything the council does," Jordan said. 

He added that no one council member can tell a staff member to do anything they do not want to do. 

"(The policy) was something we put in place to allow (Council member) Lynn Keziah's son to be hired as a police officer and there's never been a problem with that," Jordan said. 

The city's recruitment, selection and appointment policy includes an interview by panel as part of the hiring process. The panel has a minimum of three people and includes the immediate supervisor; an employee in another department, or a person outside of the city organization, that is familiar with the position and its tasks and duties and can provide input; any other member in the supervisory chain of command or any other person within the department that serves in a position of higher grade than the vacant position. 

Panel members who do not meet that criteria can be recommended with written justification as to why they should be on the panel. 

The panel tallies the scores based on the application, qualifications and an interview and ranks the candidates. The city manager approves appointments and starting salaries for all candidates, after the director of human resources reviews the recommendations. 

Kilgore also has not seen an issue with nepotism. 

"I have not seen that as an issue," Kilgore said. "We do have people that (are) related that work for each other."

Kilgore questioned former City Manager Wayne Herron about Nash's future daughter-in-law specifically.

"He assured me that he has a board in place that interviews the applicants. Also, the board looks at the application and they hire who is best qualified for that job," Kilgore said.

"As far as someone going behind the scenes, I haven't seen that and don't believe that," Kilgore said. He added that Herron never mentioned anything like that to him. 

Council member Margaret Desio sees nepotism as a problem in the city. 

"I think it's a problem and I have been talking about that since I've been on the city council," Desio said. 

She said they have asked the North Carolina Council on Government and they said "it's not illegal, but it is nepotism." 

Gordon also believes nepotism has been an issue. 

"I believe it has been and can be an issue," Gordon said. "It's pretty clear that it is an issue amongst our employees and our staff...it creates morale issues. Organizations don't need those." 

Council member Lynn Keziah said you hear rumors about nepotism. 

"I can't really speak to that, because I don't know any first-hand," Keziah said. "I don't try to go in and tell the city manager how to do his job." 

Keziah said if someone is qualified, he may call and there is a good applicant if they are interested in interviewing them. 

One of the findings of fact in the report states that, "Individual Council members occasionally will let Staff know that an individual has applied for a position with his or her department. Often such inquiries do not result in pressure from a Council member to hire an individual." 

The report itself has been met with mixed reviews. 

"I'm glad we had the report done," Desio said. "I think it was an eye-opening experience. We knew some of the problems, but we didn't know the extent." 

Desio hopes to implement Fox's recommendations and move forward with hiring a new city manager. 

Gordon did not have a reaction to the report. 

"(There) really was not much in it that I don't think many of us were not aware of," he said. 

Gordon feels it is "imperative that we use the recommendations that the analysis has." 

Ashcraft thought the firm did an excellent job with the report. He hopes to read the report, implement the recommendations and move forward. 

"I'm looking forward, I'm not looking back and I feel confident that we can do that," Ashcraft said. 

Kilgore said there is a lot of "he said, she said" in the report and wished he had been given a chance to defend some of the things said about him in the report. 

He added he will consider any and all of the recommendations. 

"I'm open to anything," Kilgore said. He added that they have to sit down and look at it. 

Jordan had not had time to read the report by Wednesday afternoon, however he had read the findings and recommendations online. 

"I don't think the report is going to do us a lot of good with regard to trying to find out why we are unable to keep a city manager, which is the reason I thought the report was done in the first place," he said. "I don't think the report, as presented, did what I thought that it was supposed to do."

Jordan did not see anything in the recommendations that he thought would benefit the council. 

"The council's problems existed long before Wayne Herron was hired...they're going to exist for a long time to come unless certain people decide that everyone on the council should have a voice," Jordan said. 

He did not participate in the study because of Attorney Anthony Fox's relationship with people on the city council and previous city council members. 

"I did not see any need in my participating in what I thought was going to be a flawed process," Jordan said. 

Keziah thought the report was good. 

"I thought it told what the employees thought," he said. "It showed some areas I think we need to improve on and in any organization you need to take a look at yourself in the mirror." 

He also hopes to implement the recommendations.

Nash wrote in her statement that the study did not address any of the problems with the former manager. 

"I hope you see this report for what it is – biased and based on rumors instead of facts," she wrote. 

Chief Duncan released a statement Wednesday afternoon. 

"My reputation has been built on honesty and my employees are aware of the consequences of being untruthful. I hold myself to that same standard," Duncan wrote. "I cooperated with this study and told the truth when asked. I did nothing illegal, unethical, or against policy. My actions were undertaken with the knowledge of the majority of city council members. I have no further comment on this issue."