December 4, 2012

Hyde commissioners fire county manager Mazie Smith


The newly installed Hyde County Board of Commissioners at their December meeting last night fired county manager Mazie Smith.

The action came at the end of the three-hour meeting at the  beginning of which newly elected commissioners Anson Byrd of Fairfield Township, John Fletcher of Ocracoke Township,  and Earl Pugh Jr. of Lake Landing Township, were sworn in, and Barry Swindell, Currituck Township, was elected board chairman.    Shortly after the new members were sworn in, the board went into a closed session for about a half hour.

Byrd, Fletcher, and Swindell voted for the termination.   Dick Tunnell, Swan Quarter Township, voted against, and Earl Pugh Jr. abstained, which was tantamount to a “yes” vote, according to county attorney Fred Holscher.

No reason was announced for the termination.  Swindell had a meeting this morning with the elected officials (the sheriff, clerk of courts, and register of deeds) and department heads.  After that meeting, Swindell said that  the board will not appoint an interim manager before January and that the department heads are capable of handling things and will report to him in the meantime.

“Not all the people were in favor of this decision, but we, as a board, decided we felt the majority of the citizens wanted this,” he said today. “We look forward to keeping taxes down and moving forward.  It was nothing personal, just the style of management and a different direction the board wants to go.”

“My personal dealings with Ms. Smith have been pleasant,” noted Fletcher prior to the vote. “Other people in the government have said otherwise.”

“I don’t like to make decisions based on hearsay,” said Pugh about his abstention.

Smith responded to the action by saying she has been honest and has worked to bring transparency to Hyde County government.

“I’m real disappointed the board wants to change course,” she said.  She questioned when the board will allow a manager to stay in place, let them do their job and make county employees follow the rules.

County managers have come and gone – or come and been fired -- in Hyde County with some regularity in recent years.

According to Megan Shaw, county information officer, since the 1980s, the average length of employment for Hyde County managers has been 18 months.

Smith had been on the job fewer than two years. She started working in January of 2011 and was officially named county manager the next month.

Former commissioner Sharon Spencer spoke during the final public comment period and noted the power struggles that have gone on within the government.

“In the interest to the county, you have done a great disservice,” Spencer said about the firing.  “Mazie has done her job.  She hasn’t done anything against the board.  She has brought transparency and better service for the citizens. I’m just so sorry for this county.”

Mary Gibbs, a former employee in the tax office, countered Spencer’s remarks. “She (Spencer) has a nerve to say that after she (Smith) fired nine people,” Gibbs said.

Former commissioner Darlene Styron-Doshier, among the group on in the Ocracoke School Commons room where the meeting was being broadcast via computer hookup, commented that she was saddened by this action and that Smith had acted at the direction of the board. 

“You cannot base a decision on hearsay,” she said.

Several other Ocracoke community leaders who had attended the meeting were shocked.

“There was no discussion, no reason given,” noted Bill Jones, who is president of the Ocracoke Preservation Society and who attended the meeting.  “They had that closed meeting and we don’t know what they did in there.”

Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, said Smith’s loss is a big step backwards.

“Our concern on Ocracoke is not storms or sea-level rise,” he said. “Our main concern is Hyde County government functioning in a responsible manner.”

In other action, the board appointed Avery Simmons to the position of board clerk, replacing Lois Stokesbury, whom, Styron said, had recently received national certification.  Stokesbury will continue to work as a secretary in the county manager’s office, Swindell said.

Justin Gibbs, EMS director, was appointed deputy clerk.  Dick Tunnell was elected vice-chairman of the board.

The board tabled until January action on re-hiring lobbyists Henri and Joe McClees to fight ferry tolls in Raleigh and whose contract expires Dec. 31. The $10,000 of Hyde’s payment share to the couple this year came from an appropriation by the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board, which typically meets in April each year.

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