County fires inspections director after confrontation over department management

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County has fired the director of its inspections and building code enforcement department.
County Manager Gary Page said that Building Code Enforcement Director Dana Hart was dismissed on June 11.
Despite state law requiring government agencies to provide a letter stating the reasons when an employee is fired, Page said the county will not release more information until the beginning of August, because Hart can appeal his dismissal until then.
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Hart said he doesn’t plan to continue the appeals process. He said he was fired after confronting Page “about him micromanaging my department” during a budget meeting.
According to Hart, in the meeting of department heads, Page told him to dismiss plans reviewer Brian Goins and office assistant Julia Brown.
“I basically said, ‘Don’t tell me who to fire. Tell me how much money you need me to give you back out of my budget, and let me figure out who goes,’ ” Hart said. “And that’s what did it. I didn’t disagree with (cutting) the two positions, I just wanted to choose which two they were.”
He would have followed Page’s instructions, Hart said, but he wanted to voice his disagreement with them. Hart said he thought he might be reprimanded, but he didn’t think it would get him fired.
“I was in shock for about three days,” Hart said. “When I realized it really wasn’t a good termination, and that it was unjust, then I got mad. Now I’m just moving on.”
Hart owns and operates a portable sawmill service in Winston-Salem.
Thomas O’Kelly is serving as the county’s interim code enforcement director until a permanent replacement can be found. The position is now advertised on the county website.
Page said Wednesday that Goins’ and Brown’s positions were cut in a reduction in force (RIF) strictly to save costs. In the past four years, he said, construction in Rowan County has slowed and revenue from building permits has dropped.
“My position was, could I really afford three people that could do plan review when I had so few permits coming through?” Page said. “So we RIFed Brian because of money, but then I didn’t know that we were going to terminate Dana,” who also did plan review.
But Hart said county officials have asked him to fire Goins before.
“I basically said no, that I wasn’t going to fire him, because he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Hart said. “They’ve been after me to get rid of him for two years.”
On Thursday, Page said he won’t respond to Hart’s comments until his time to appeal runs out. The county’s human resources department has confirmed the dismissal, but Hart has an additional 30 days to appeal to the Rowan County Personnel Commission.
“I know what happened, and everybody who was in the meeting knows what happened,” Page said. “He is welcome to continue his due process.”
According to state public records law, the public has the right to see “a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the county setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.”
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has issued an opinion that this applies to “the decision of the employing agency or its agent for which an employee has no right to further review within the employing agency. “
Amanda Martin, attorney for the N.C. Press Association, said she believes this means the dismissal notice should be released because a final decision has been made within the county.
But County Attorney Jay Dees argued that the decision isn’t final until the employee has no right to further appeal the case to any authority, including the county personnel commission.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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