Mayor’s decision to not sign manager’s extension forces council to look at alternatives
by Saja Hindi
Stallings town council members voted unanimously in favor of Mayor Pro Tem Reed Esarove signing the town manager’s contract extension at the meeting Monday, Feb. 29.
It is typically the responsibility of the mayor to sign all contracts, with the pro tem only signing them in her absence. However, Mayor Lynda Paxton asked if it was legally permissible to have a signature page of council members in support of the extension to sign town manager Brian Matthews’ contract at the Feb. 13 meeting or if the mayor pro tem could sign it. The town’s attorney said she would need to do more research and would get back to Paxton with an answer. Council approved the written form of the manager’s contract at the Feb. 13 meeting for a 5-year extension, with a one-year severance package.
“I posed what I thought was a pretty simple question to the attorney, and she and the clerk had gone and gotten some additional options with regards to that,” Paxton said at the meeting Monday night.
According to Paxton, she didn’t imply that she could veto the council’s decision or that “my choice to not sign the contract would in any way invalidate the decision.”
But, Paxton said, what she was looking for was accountability.
Paxton came back to the council Monday night and told them the options were to not sign it at all, have a signature page that had the names and signatures of the council members in support of the extension or to have the mayor pro tem sign the contract.
Councilman Harry Stokes made the motion to have the Mayor Pro Tem sign the contract and the council members voted in favor of this motion.
Councilman Reed Esarove, in an interview, said he had no reservations about signing Matthews contract.
“I’m glad to have Brian be our town manager, and I’m proud he chooses to be our town manager,” Esarove said.
Matthews is not only very employable, Esarove said, but also not even paid as highly as some other town managers.
And, Esarove said, in the 10 years Matthews has served as town manager, he’s overseen many projects, including the growth of the police department, the building of the town hall, the redevelopment of the park, among others.
But the mayor’s decision, he said, could now further affect the direction of the town hall.
“It’s a real interesting precedent that’s now set that if our mayor choose to not agree with the town council on a matter, she refuses to do her duties,” he said.
The mayor has the opportunity to make her opinion known and she has done so, Esarove added, but that one of her duties is to carry out what the council decides.
“The only time the pro tem steps in is when the mayor is absent from a meeting or has a conflict and the council has acknowledged the conflict and allowed her to recuse herself from a particular vote,” he said.
Esarove said he’s never heard this happen before, at least in the town of Stallings, that the mayor has refused to sign a contract, even when in disagreement, and there have been five-year contract extensions in the past.
“This seems somewhat personal and political in nature,” he said.
And there’s no precedent or formal process, Esarove said, for a signature page, either.
At the town hall meeting where the council first discussed the manager’s extension, five of the six citizens who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting addressed the manager’s extension and all spoke in support of it.
However, Councilman Paul Frost in an interview, said he’s heard concerns about it.
“In this economic environment, why would someone merit a five-year contract, with a $90,000 plus severance package if things didn’t go his way, so that was essentially the sum of [the complaints],” Frost said.
He said although the formal evaluation of the manager was in closed session, he does think the majority of the council is unwilling to look seriously at concerns of the manager’s performance and of developments that occur that negatively impact citizens.
“We as council members need to have high standards and need to have an expectation that work gets done in a timely way, in a neat way, in a way that preserves the resources of the town,” Frost said. “The way I see things going, that standard is not not necessarily being met as fully as it could.”