GOP faction sought change
Published 3:10 am Thursday, March 6, 2003
By By JONATHAN CLAYBORNE, News Editor
On Thursday, it didn't look like Beaufort County Manager Don Davenport had resigned Wednesday night during the Board of Commissioners' meeting.
Seated at his desk, Davenport – manager for 19 years – answered the phone as he normally would, from morning on.
At one point in the afternoon, he took a call from Rolf Blizzard, director of special projects and research for state Senate president pro tempore Marc Basnight.
"Hey, Rolf," Davenport said airily, making no mention of his imminent departure.
The commissioners had passed a set of legislative goals and wanted to know if they could meet with the senator, Davenport told Blizzard.
The Basnight aide filled in Davenport on the senator's schedule, but the conversation was cut short when Blizzard left the line to answer a call from Basnight.
Though kept on hold for five minutes or so, Davenport kept the handset next to his ear.
"I thought we were through anyway, but I hate to hang up on him," he said.
Some would call that vintage Davenport – ever breezy and polite, ever serene, ever mindful of thousands of eyes watching his every move, even if he won't be behind that desk much longer.
"All in all, I don't have anything but good things to say about Beaufort County and I wish the county the best," he said.
Apparently, the departing manager harbors no ill feelings toward the commissioners who wanted him out, though he hasn't found another job yet and isn't eligible for retirement.
He declined to start "finger-pointing" on Wednesday night after the commissioners' 4-3 vote to accept his resignation, which some say was "forced."
"I think a majority of the board felt it was time for me to resign," Davenport said. "I think there's been enough controversy and enough conjecture about what's happened and who said what."
He was referring to rumors abroad in town, but Davenport doesn't deny the reports.
He was told it would "be good for everyone" if he left. He applied for the manager's job in Duplin County, but didn't get it. Davenport was left with the understanding that if he didn't get that job, he basically would be given a choice: Resign or be fired.
Maybe it wasn't what he wanted to hear, but it wasn't totally unexpected.
To some insiders, Davenport is a casualty of a long-running war between local Democrats and Republicans seeking control of the county board.
In recent years, the war has taken many commissioner candidates, but never a county manager – until now.
When voters elected a Republican majority to the board for the first time last fall, it was assumed widely that major changes would come. What form the changes would take, no one outside of the GOP's inner circle knew.
However, much of the new Republican leadership's agenda reportedly was crafted behind closed doors with Commissioners Hood Richardson and Jay McRoy and newly elected Commissioners Carol Cochran and Earl Tetterton, before they were sworn in last December.
It also was known that the Republicans had been gunning for Davenport since at least spring 2000, when McRoy discovered a $500,000 to $600,000 (the number is disputed) error in the county budget.
The error was corrected before the commissioners passed the budget, but, for some, the damage was done.
Richardson, the acknowledged captain of the GOP's current leadership team, isn't talking about the manager's resignation. The issue is too "sensitive and important" for comment, he said.
"I know that anything that I say is going to be like a strobe light in Beaufort County," Richardson said.
He never told Davenport to leave, Richardson says, "prior to him looking for a job. Let's put it that way."
Though his resignation takes effect April 1, Davenport will remain with the county until he finds a job or can be replaced, according to Richardson.
"I think we worked out an arrangement that works for all of us," he said.
The three Democratic commissioners – Frank Bonner, Jerry Langley and David Moore – had no idea the board would take a vote on Davenport's resignation after a closed session on Wednesday night, Moore said.
"Basically, the Republican majority had decided before we got there that they needed to get rid of this county manager," he said. "The only problem that I had was that none of the Republican commissioners could come up with a valid reason as to why he should be asked to resign. The county manager has been with Beaufort County for over 19 years; he's never been accused of being negligent in any of his duties."
To Moore, the GOP commissioners' move against Davenport was another way to "micromanage" county government.
"They don't want a county manager," he said. "They want a puppet."
During Davenport's tenure with the county, "for the (Democratic) majority on the board that he was working for, he had done a good job for them," Richardson said.
"(I want) a manager that will serve the majority on the board with a lot of vigor and interest," he said.
The board hasn't decided what sort of relationship it will have with the next manager, Tetterton related.
On to business
The manager's office already has started putting together elements for the 2003-2004 county budget, but it isn't known how involved the commissioners will be in assembling the spending plan.
"I don't know how the budget's going to come up, but I'm sure Don's going to have some part," said Tetterton, who didn't seem to favor Davenport's resignation, though he voted to accept it.
"In my time past, I've hired many a person," said Tetterton, who owns a trucking business, "but I've never fired one until he's really messed up."
Tetterton also said Davenport wasn't responsible for the previous board's draining of county reserves (which have been rebuilt partly over the past year).
"Don didn't have any doings with busting the county," he said.
Whoever the next manager is, his or her salary likely will range from a low of $69,126 to a high of $103,689, according to the county finance office.
Advertisements for the vacancy haven't been sent out yet, but the board may cast a nationwide net through the N.C. Association of County Commissioners' newsletter, once the commissioners approve wording of an advertisement.
Davenport has two daughters – Megan, almost 21, a psychology major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Melissa, 18, star tennis player at Washington High School.
With his wife, Lynn, Davenport has been active in many capacities at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Washington.
A native of Creswell in Washington County, Davenport was assistant manager in Pitt County before landing the top job here. He received his education from UNC and North Carolina State University.
His father was the late Howard Davenport, a longtime Washington County commissioner who died of cancer last August.
During an interview on Thursday, Davenport fielded a number of questions, some of them personal. He struggled with only one question: Why so long in Beaufort County?
"Good place to be," he said. "We've made a lot of good friends."
But he also found it difficult to produce a brief review of his career, saying, "Hard to sum up 19 years in a few minutes."
For more on Wednesday's meeting, see subsequent editions.
Jonathan Clayborne may be reached by telephone at 940-4213 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.