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East Spencer board fires town administrator

By Scott Jenkins
Salisbury Post
EAST SPENCER ó The Board of Aldermen fired Town Administrator Richard Hunter on Monday night.
Mayor Erma Jefferies, who did not cast a vote in the 4-2 decision, said board members wanted someone more accessible. One of the aldermen who voted to let Hunter go, however, said the town’s recent financial problems played a part in the board’s action.
Aldermen Carlton Ellis, John Rustin, Phronice Johnson and Theodore Gladden voted to fire Hunter. Aldermen John Noble and Barbara Mallett dissented.
Hunter was not at the meeting when the board took the action and learned about it when he came to work Tuesday, the mayor said.
Jefferies said she does not know what about Hunter dissatisfied the board members who voted to fire him, besides the fact that he had worked as the town administrator for nearly four years and never moved in East Spencer.
He lives in Durham and drove to East Spencer three days a week, while working from home two days each week, Jefferies said.
“I think the board was looking for someone here five days a week,” she said. “I think they wanted someone on-site.”
But Ellis, one of the four who voted to terminate Hunter, cited other reasons, including state officials chastising the town earlier this year for its financial practices.
In March, the Local Government Commission enumerated what it called “serious financial problems,” including a general fund reserve made up largely of restricted federal road money; borrowing from the general fund to cover utility losses; bank accounts not accurately reconciled with the town’s general ledger; and a financial audit received more than four months late ó too late for the town to correct problems it identified.
The Local Government Commission demanded a response from the town outlining a plan to correct the errors, which leaders said they provided. But Ellis laid blame for the problems at Hunter’s feet.
The fault “couldn’t have been nobody else’s,” Ellis said. The audit “never was on time. Our books wasn’t on time.”
In addition to town finances, Ellis said, Hunter’s dismissal resulted from “several other things … I don’t want to go into details on that matter.”
Ellis said some board members had been discussing cutting ties with Hunter for “quite a while,” and with a full board present Monday, “we decided we was going to go ahead and do what we had to do.”
But Noble, one of two aldermen who opposed the move, said the board shouldn’t have made it now, with the town in the midst of improvement projects, most notably preparing to replace much of its aging, leaking water system.
“I just think the timing was wrong for him to be let go because he’s involved with everything we’re about to do positive,” Noble said.
Jefferies, who would have voted only to break a tie, said she would remain neutral on the merits of Hunter’s dismissal.
“I just support the board in their decision,” she said. “It was a majority vote, and my job is to support them in whatever decisions they make.”
Still, Jefferies said, she believes Hunter did “an admirable job” and deserves some credit for improving police and fire protection, expanding recreational opportunities and guiding the project to update the water system.
“He will be missed, but we will proceed as we always do,” she said. “… Whatever’s best for East Spencer is what we all want.”
Jefferies said town leaders have not discussed a timetable for selecting Hunter’s permanent replacement, who will either live in the area or relocate here. They will consult the Centralina Council of Governments on finding an interim administrator, she said.
In the meantime, Jefferies said, Hunter’s duties will be divided among other town employees, and she will be in the office daily.
Ellis said aldermen already have someone in mind to replace Hunter, though he declined to identify the person.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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