Commissioners say they weren’t involved; NAACP responds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 8, 2014

According to a couple of Rowan County commissioners privy to the situation, the decision to fire Sandra Campbell was one entirely left up to Register of Deeds Harry Welch.
After working in the office for more than 22 years, the assistant register of deeds was fired Feb. 28 after announcing to Welch her intentions the day before to run for the office’s top position.
Campbell said Welch told her commissioners had directed him to let her go if she filed to run for the register of deeds seat — a statement Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides said is false and one Welch later denied.
“(Welch) did call me before he fired the lady in his office. The employees at the register of deeds office are at-will employees,” Sides said. “(I told Welch) to contact (human resources) to be clear on whatever action he took as well as consult the county manager and county attorney. I never indicated he should fire (Campbell).”
Sides said he would never throw Welch “under the bus” and would be honest about it with anyone had he told Welch to fire Campbell.
“The first thing he should do is protect himself and make sure everything was done properly,” Sides said.
Sides said Welch ultimately is going to suffer the fallout from the decisions he makes.
Craig Pierce, the board’s vice chairman, echoed Sides’ sentiments in saying Welch never contacted more than one commissioner regarding Campbell’s filing and subsequent firing.
Pierce said he feels there are some inconsistencies in how the termination process was handled.
“There are procedures you follow. It’s only fair that for people being terminated, you give a reason,” Pierce said. “Without that, they cannot go to the unemployment office and sign up for benefits or anything.”
Pierce said he doesn’t appreciate Welch purportedly putting the blame for Campbell’s firing on commissioners.
“If (Welch) makes that decision, he owns that decision,” Pierce said. “My biggest concern is if he’s going to make these types of changes, he needs to step up and admit his decision and not put it on someone else. People are going to read into it that we can get into areas where we have no jurisdiction.”
It is the right of a Rowan County citizen to file for register of deeds, Pierce said, and he or she should not lose a job for making that decision.
Rowan County Manager Gary Page said he struggled to get hold of Welch on Friday regarding the matter — the same as Thursday.
“(Welch) talked to one commissioner. The board wasn’t consulted,” Page said. “As far as the board goes, they didn’t play a part in terminating (Campbell).”
The one-line termination letter Welch issued to Campbell read, “As of March 3, 2014, your services are no longer needed.”
In a timeline Welch submitted to the Post, Welch detailed his interaction with Campbell.
On Feb. 27, Campbell told Welch she was going to file and run for register of deeds.
Welch said he tried to contact Page, who was out of town, as well as a county commissioner to notify them of Campbell’s decision and what was happening in the office.
“I informed (Sides) that I planned to dismiss Ms. Campbell in the morning. He suggested that I might run it by our human resource department first. I thanked him for the suggestion, but told him the director was out of town and her assistant was in the hospital,” Welch wrote.
Welch said he texted Campbell and asked her to take off Friday to let him work on what she had told him.
On Feb. 28, Campbell reportedly arrived at work before 8 a.m.
“I asked her if she had filed. She replied she was going to file later that morning,” Welch wrote. “I told Sandra, since she was filing against me, she could no longer work in my office.”
Welch said Campbell asked why, and he explained he could not have another candidate for his position working in his office.
Since Page was out of town due to a death in the family, Welch said he told Campbell he contacted a commissioner as a courtesy to let him know what happened.
Welch said he told Campbell he had not spoken to all commissioners, just one.
On Wednesday, county human resources officials contacted Welch and told him he needed to write a letter to Campbell and send them a copy, Welch said.
“That afternoon, I met with Rowan County attorney Jay Dees, who recommended how the letter should be worded,” Welch wrote.
Campbell’s firing has upset members of the local branch of the NAACP.
“The NAACP will use this very disturbing situation as a motivational tool to encourage people to vote. The decision to handle (Campbell) was untactful and mean in spirit,” said Scott Teamer, president of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP. “Almost 150 years ago, African-Americans were run out of office through intimidation.”
As opposed to focusing on race, Teamer said the NAACP will focus on rights in Campbell’s case.
“(Campbell) has the constitutional right to run for office. We stand for people exercising their constitutional right,” Teamer said. “We don’t endorse any individual politically. We are political in the fact that we expose injustices and we fight injustice.”