"I'm at peace" says fired Meck County Mgr Harry Jones - | WBTV Charlotte

"I'm at peace" says fired Meck County Mgr Harry Jones

Former County Manager Harry Jones Former County Manager Harry Jones

The Mecklenburg County Commissioners fired County Manager Harry Jones during a meeting Tuesday night.

In an interview with WBTV, Jones says "I've used the word I'm at peace and I really am – I use the word relief."

Jones say he knew he was the cause of factions on the county commission board. He says he and his attorney were trying to negotiate a new deal with commissioners. But then Tuesday night happened.

"It really doesn't matter what is behind it" says Jones. "It could be a variety of things that are behind it. It really doesn't matter because I serve at pleasure of the board."

But Jones admits he "was a little blind sided by what happened on Tuesday."

At the meeting, the commissioners did not give a reason for Jones' sudden firing.

WBTV has learned the botched revaluation is one reason Jones lost his job.

Is he angry?

"No. Absolutely not. When you're at peace -  you don't get angry" says Jones. "I'm disappointed is the word - not in being fired - that is something the board has the authority to do. I'm disappointed at the manner in which the Board Chairman specifically handled this matter."

During the public portion of the meeting when Commissioners voted {6-to-2; Commissioner George Dunlap was out of town and did not vote} to terminate Jones' employment effective immediately, Jones asked "may I make a comment?" Cotham replied "no."

Jones was asked to leave, and was told his office is locked and off limits. Board Chair Pat Cotham told Jones "your items will be delivered to your home."

Jones says he thought it was "disrespectful. It's as if you know get the hell out of here now we don't want to see you anymore."

But Board Chair Pat Cotham says that's not why she asked Jones to leave the dais. 

"He had no standing at that time" says Commissioner Cotham. "It was not appropriate so I don't regret that. That the was the right thing to do."

Commissioner Cotham says most residents have expressed support for her decision to terminate Jones. She says the county is moving forward.

"We as a board will come together with management and make plans  to do right things so people are feeling we are being accountable to them" Commissioner Cotham says.

On Wednesday, the two commissioners who voted against Jones' termination say they were still upset.

"From what he did I don't think he deserved to be fired" says Kim Ratliff, Vice Chair of the Board. "Reprimanded maybe for some of the things that have gone wrong. But there is a way to fix things."

In mid-April, Jones said that, despite rumors at the time, he planned on staying on as County Manager until 2015.

According to county officials, Jones' annual salary was $246,000. Commissioners say Jones' severance package includes six months salary and benefits compensation.

Jones say "I'm now a retiree and because of my service with Mecklenburg County I will now have 100 percent health insurance paid by Mecklenburg County until I become medicare eligible. I negotiated in my contract that they would also provide insurance for my wife until she becomes medicare eligible."

Commissioners Ratliff and Dumont Clarke, who also voted against termination, say they did not receive any advance notification that Jones' employment was going to be a topic during the closed session.

Commissioner Ratliff says she was "totally surprised the vote was held. Even more shocked at the way the Chair treated Mr. Jones."

Some commissioners say they felt it was a public humiliation.

"I think it was more disrespectful" says Commissioner Ratliff. "We fired you now get out. All he wanted to say was thank you. He's a very classy gentleman, very intelligent. It's not like he was going to say anything to harm the Board."

Commissioner Clarke says "I thought the way the Chairwoman refused to give time for any remarks after 12 years of service was very shabby treatment of him and very disrespectful."

Clarke says he voted against Jones' termination because "if you look at his entire record, his firing was not merited."

WBTV left voice messages for, and sent emails to some of the Commissioners who voted for termination.

Commissioner Bill James told WBTV because it was an  'personnel matter' he could not discuss it.

Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said in a statement "given the challenges of recent years, the board felt this was the time to go in a new direction," Ridenhour said, adding, "There will be some changes coming to Mecklenburg County, but I am confident that these changes will be for the betterment of our community."

Commissioner Trevor Fuller didn't respond.

But evidently some members of the community are speaking up.

Robin Bradford, Chair of the Mecklenburg County Democrats, says her phone has been ringing non-stop. She estimates at least 100 people called between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

"They don't know why he {Jones} was terminated" Bradford says. "They don't know why he was terminated in that fashion. They thought it was mean spirited."

Former Commissioner Parks Helms says "I think this has created an unhealthy tension that will be with this county for the near term."

Helms says "Harry Jones has made some mistakes but he's not perfect. He's been a good county manager at a time when this city and region has made dramatic gain because of the leadership of the professional management team on the city and county side."

Helms says he believes it was a "serious mistake" to terminate Jones now heading into budget discussions.

"It was not a good representation of how things should be done" says Helms.

So will Jones and his attorney challenge the termination?

"He and I will continue to have discussions about what, if anything, the next steps might be" Jones tells WBTV.

After 38 years in public service - 25 years with the city of Charlotte, 21 years in Mecklenburg County - including 13 years as County Manager - Jones says he's not dwelling on the past.

He is looking to the future.

"I've had a comfort  come into my soul as a result of my battle with pancreatic cancer for 16 months. I'm a walking miracle. I know that" Jones says.

Bobbie Shields was voted to take the role of Interim County Manager with a 10% raise.

Shields, who was hired as Deputy Director of the County Engineering Department in 1986, held different positions for the City before being named General Manager in 2002, according to the Mecklenburg County Manager's web site.

The Board is also looking to make more changes.

Commissioner James sent WBTV a statement saying "The Changes to the structure of County government however go beyond just installing a temporary CEO; other changes are also anticipated including:

Considering Deborah King as the County Commission's eyes and ears within the Tax Assessor's office reporting directly to the County Commission and working with (but not for) the interim County Manager and Pearsons (the revaluation auditing firm); assisting with the selection of a new County Assessor (she will not be a candidate for that position, just provide temporary assistance to the Board).

 Considering Krista Tillman (former executive of Bell South) to be 'Executive Transition Manager' to work directly with the Commission on a variety of matters including finding a new County Manager and evaluating the current structure and efficiency of County government."

WBTV obtained some documents that show Commissioners are considering paying Tillman $250 an hour for the Executive Transition Manager position. Documents show it would be a temporary position.

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