City manager resigns

Published 9:27 pm Friday, October 8, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington City Manager James C. Smith offered his resignation, effective Jan. 1, 2011, and the City Council has accepted that resignation.
The city announced Smith’s resignation Friday in a news release, one day after a called City Council meeting was canceled. The purpose of the called meeting, which was to have been held at 7 p.m. Thursday, was to allow the council to go into closed session to discuss personnel matters and protect the attorney-client privilege, according to a notice sent by the city to area media outlets Tuesday evening.
“Mr. Smith has agreed to stay on board until the first of the year to complete some ongoing projects as well as to assist the City with the transition to a new manager and, if necessary, an interim manager,” reads the release. “The City is grateful for Mr. Smith’s professional and competent leadership over these past 5 years. He, along with City Department Heads and Staff, have accomplished a tremendous amount in these 5 years. Until his resignation date, the City will continue business as usual, with the added task of recruiting Mr. Smith’s successor.”
Smith began working as Washington’s city manager Jan. 3, 2006.
The city and Smith have entered into a 21-page resignation and transition agreement that spells out what is expected of the city and Smith until his resignation takes effect. The agreement allows the city to terminate Smith before the effective resignation date “for good cause or at the discretion of the Council,” according to the document. Smith may terminate his employment with the city before Jan. 1, 2011, upon 30 days written notice, according to the agreement.
(See the Oct. 12 edition of the Washington Daily News for details of Smith’s severance package.)
Asked to comment on his resignation, Smith referred to a memorandum he and Mayor Archie Jennings sent to city department heads.
It reads, in part, “Jim has served as our City Manger for approximately five years. The Council has acknowledged significant achievements under his leadership during this time period. The City now faces significant financial challenges. Jim and the City Council agree that the philosophy of our current Council would be in better alignment with a new City Manager.”
Jennings and council members offered their thoughts on Smith’s resignation.
“Jim Smith’s resignation marks a significant turning point for the city. As the only councilman/mayor to serve with Jim for his entire tenure, I can attest to his significant, positive impact on the city. If you look back over his team’s list of accomplishments over that period, it’s very impressive,” Jennings wrote in an e-mail he sent to the Daily News on Friday. “At the same time, the changing landscape has led a contingent, of which Jim is a member, to believe that perhaps a new direction would benefit the city. I think his willingness to actively participate in the transition speaks highly of his professionalism as well as his concern for Washington.”
“I was not on the City Council when Mr. Smith was hired. But I do know that being from another area of our county, he brought a different perspective about the way our City should be operated. I know that there are many ideas and programs we would not have considered without his leadership. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” Councilman Doug Mercer wrote in an e-mail sent to the Washington Daily News.
“He did a good job for us. We appreciate the work he did,” Councilman Gil Davis said in a brief interview.
“I’m saddened by his resignation,” Councilman Ed Moultrie said in a brief telephone interview.
“It was a very good working relationship with the city manager,” Moultrie said when asked about his experiences with Smith. “By all means, I would have preferred him to stay on.”
Moultrie believes Smith will be missed, at least by some segments of the community.
“He touched all segments of the community, from the haves to the have-nots,” Moultrie said, recalling that Smith had no problems with helping entities trying to improve the community. Moultrie recalled Smith selling food plates at the Beaufort County Boys &Girls Club during a fundraising event.
“I just hate to see him go,” Moultrie said.
Council members William Pitt and Bobby Roberson had not responded to requests for comment by Washington Daily News’ deadline Friday.
In the past, Mercer and Davis had expressed their dissatisfaction with Smith, especially in the past two years.
At the council’s July 14, 2008, meeting, Mercer asked for Smith’s “resignation for gross insubordination.”
“If he were working for me as an individual, I would fire him,” Mercer said then.
In recent months, Mercer has made it clear he’s not been happy with how some city staff members have complied with some of his requests for information, saying he often receives no information or partial information. Mercer also has indicated he’s upset that specific instructions given by the council to city staff have been ignored.
Interviewed several days after the July 14, 2008, meeting, Mercer said, “This is not the first time (Smith) has not done what the council has asked him to do.”
Mercer and Smith clashed over the question of merging the city’s E-911 system with Beaufort County’s E-911 system. In March, the council voted 3-2 to proceed with plans to merge the city’s E-911 system with the county’s E-911 system as soon as the county system is ready to absorb the city’s system.