Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
CHINA GROVE ó Although no official action has been taken, it appears Eric Davis’ future as town manager is in doubt.
Mayor Don Bringle confirmed Monday that a majority of the Board of Aldermen want Davis out.
Bringle said he doesn’t agree.
“Eric has done a good job for our town,” Bringle said. “He has brought us from a negative to a positive financial position through his leadership.”
Bringle went further, saying he has heard no public support for removing Davis from the position.
Aldermen Troy Elliott, Allen Welter and Harold Simpson apparently formed the majority expressing displeasure with Davis’ performance as manager.
And Welter said a decision has been made. He said the board won’t renew Davis’ contract and Attorney Tom Brooke is negotiating a severance package with Davis.
“His last day is Aug. 7,” Welter said late Monday.
Other town officials did not verify Welter’s statements.
However, Alderman Butch Bivens acknowledged Monday that rumors are swirling around town that a majority of the board wants to fire Davis.
Hired in October 2002, Davis is only the second person to hold the manager’s post in China Grove. His current contract runs through Dec. 31.
Last month, the board began the annual process of evaluating Davis’ performance. Mayor Pro Tem Blair Lyseski heads up the process.
Bivens said that as far as he knows, the evaluation is ongoing. And he made clear that he wants Davis to stay.
“We’ve been fortunate to have the man. In my opinion, we can keep the man, but that is entirely his choice,” Bivens said. He went on to credit Davis with making a lot of improvements.
The board met in closed session for approximately two hours June 19, with Davis included in the session for around one hour.
Lyseski said he couldn’t say anything “until the information comes out.” He stressed that the board took no action in the closed session.
Lyseski also praised Davis, saying he has done a lot of good things.
Davis declined to comment, saying only that he expects to be at the next board meeting on Aug. 7. The board opted to cancel its July meeting.
“We gave the guy (Davis) the option to talk to the media,” Welter said.
Elliott and Simpson did not return calls from the Post.
Under the town’s organization, the mayor only votes in case of a tie. With a five-member board, that rarely occurs.
Simpson, who suffered a stroke in November, said recently that he did not know whether he would be able to serve out his term, which expires in December.
Simpson has been generally supportive of Davis and Finance Officer Mary Jo Bopp and credits them with improving the town’s finances and record-keeping.
But Davis has repeatedly drawn the ire of Elliott and Welter.
During a board meeting several weeks ago, Welter, Elliott and Bringle gave Davis a tongue lashing for hiring engineers to do a total assessment of the fire and police building on Main Street.
Town officials have discussed revamping the building to better suit the needs of the departments.
Davis said the town didn’t have any blueprints of the building, which was originally a car dealership. Before spending large sums of money, Davis said, the town needed to know exactly what’s there, including potential environmental hazards.
Welter and Elliott appeared outraged at spending $9,000 for the engineering work.
Elliott proposed requiring board approval for any expenditure more than $500, even if it was already approved as part of the budget.
Welter has publicly lectured Davis for being abrupt or curt in dealing with the public, specifically citing incidents involving Welter and his wife, Barbara, before Welter became an alderman.
While current officials aren’t saying much, former officials spoke out Monday in support of Davis.
Joe Sloop, who was mayor when Davis was hired, said he came in during tough times. The town ‘s first manager, Ron Suthpin had left a budget several hundred thousand dollars in the red.
And Suthpin cleaned out the town hall, dumping documents and records.
“He threw away everything,” Sloop said.
Sloop said that to the best of his knowledge, Davis has done a good job.
Barbara Doby, president of the Historical Society of South Rowan and a former alderman, blamed efforts to force Davis out on the personal agendas of some aldermen.
“We have people on the board for personal gain and people with a history of causing problems in the community,” Doby said, opting not to name names.
Doby said she has been impressed with Davis and the town has prospered under his guidance. She compared that to the very tough financial times in the past.
“I was on a board where the town finances were so bad, the town couldn’t buy gas,” she said.
“Eric has a long range plan and a vision for China Grove. He should be complimented for outstanding management. He wasn’t hired to be a PR guy for the town. His job was to pull the town out of a hole. The man has made the town function. He’s done an excellent job,” Doby said.
“Our town will suffer if Eric leaves,” she said.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or