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Spencer town manager receives $32,500 in severance pay

By Andie Foley
andie.foley@salisburypost.com

SPENCER — Former Town Manager Terence Arrington received $32,500, or six months of salary, when he separated from the town, said Mayor Jim Gobbel.

That answer comes as a result of an open-records requests submitted two weeks ago for severance payments made to Arrington as well as emails.

Arrington resigned from the job May 6, seven weeks after a March 19 announcement of his intentions to the Board of Aldermen. According to an email from Gobbel to Town Attorney Rivers Lawther, the announcement came during a called meeting at which Arrington told the board he’d spoken with an attorney and decided it was time to “part ways with the town.”

The reason for his departure, according to the email, was that “it was not a good fit and (it) was time to move on.”

In his email, Gobbel said Arrington was pursuing amending his employment agreement through his attorney. In doing so, the former manager was seeking to “find a way to part that would be mutually beneficial to both parties,” Gobbel said.

A digital and emailed copy of Arrington’s terms, laid out in an attorney-prepared severance agreement, would follow to board members on March 22.

“We didn’t know what to do with it,” Gobbel told the Post on Tuesday. “We never received anything on any sort of official letterhead from a lawyer. This whole thing really blindsided us.”

In April, Arrington told the Post that he filed the severance agreement after what he called an “absolute trash” performance evaluation.

Arrington would go on to send the town board at least four emailed reminders of his pending severance request. The request was also listed in the town manager’s weekly reports on March 29, April 5, April 12, April 20, and May 2, each indicating that a resolution had not been reached.

During this time, a leaked phone call between Arrington and Alderwoman Sylvia Chillcott and her wife, Patsy, brought outside eyes into the building tensions between the board and Arrington. On April 22, the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP announced it would begin an investigation into the town’s hiring practices and more.

Members of the association, along with Arrington, said his treatment appeared racially motivated.

But Gobbel contested that accusation, saying, “Mr. Arrington was a black man when we hired him; he was a black man when he left.

“I know we have done nothing wrong in terms of race,”  he said. “Nobody that I know of has ever mistreated anybody because of the color of their skin. There’s been no need.”

He said the incident between Arrington and the Chillcotts had been a matter of mutual frustration and miscommunication.

Though the terms of Arrington’s severance contract remain undisclosed, his severance payment indicates his decision to leave the town was made without sway from the board. According to the terms of his employment contract, a voluntary resignation would leave the town free and clear of obligations for severance and benefit payments.

But if the resignation followed suggestions by members of the Board of Aldermen, Arrington was entitled to a severance of as much as one year’s salary and compensation for earned vacation, holidays and other accrued benefits.

“In the event … the employee resigns following a suggestion, whether formal or informal, by the employer that he resign … (the employee) may be deemed to be ‘terminated,’” the contract states.

Termination before the end of his three-year contract, signed Oct. 22, would qualify Arrington for severance pay. Alternatively, the “terminated” designation would, under terms of the original contract, obligate the town to pay the difference if Arrington were to accept employment elsewhere at a lower base salary within six months.

Peripheral costs of the matter remain uncertain, as town attorney fees are outstanding.

For now, Gobbel said he hopes the town will be able to move forward with its budget process.

“In the ideal situation, we’d have a full-time town manager and just be going on with the business of the town,” he said, adding that the town has temporarily contracted with John Sofley to help with the budget.

Gobbel said the town board would soon be making decisions on an interim manager and how to advertise for a permanent replacement.

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