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East Spencer board divided on hire of new administrator

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

EAST SPENCER — Although the town recently hired a new town administrator, some on its governing board said they wish the hire had waited until after the Nov. 5 election.

U. James Bennett, an Anson County native, began his first week of work last week as the town’s new administrator.

Alderman Tony Hillian, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Barbara Mallett in this year’s election, is one of the board members who said the decision show have waited. Hillian said the board specifically should have waited to see if there would be a new board and/or mayor.

Hillian said he think it looks good publicly for board members to say they hired a new administrator and that he didn’t think waiting 20 days, when new board members would be sworn in, would make a difference.

Hillian isn’t the only board member who feels that way. Mayor Pro Tem Dwayne Holmes agreed, saying the town had waited this long. A few more weeks wouldn’t make much of a difference, Holmes said.

The board held a meeting Oct. 21 in which it appeared to extend an offer to a new town manager, but Mallett said that meeting involved a vote to move forward with hiring Bennett, who was at work seven days later. Other than to clarify the vote, Mallett kept her comments to the Post short.

“Him coming on as the town administrator with all of his background will benefit the town and move us forward in where we need to be,” Mallett said.

Holmes said he believes Bennett is a qualified candidate who can do great things for the town, but that he thinks the decision simply occurred too soon.

He said East Spencer had three candidates, one of which was an Albemarle woman who left without an interview after waiting for three hours. Holmes said she waited to be interviewed by the board during a meeting, and it never took place.

Holmes said the board met Bennett, reviewed his paperwork, heard what he could do for the town, and the consensus, as Holmes understood, was that the board would get back in touch with him at a later date.

“Next thing you know, we have to have a special meeting,” he said.

Holmes said he was not expecting to vote during the Oct. 21 meeting.

“The next thing, we are raising our hands to hire the guy,” Holmes said.

Hillian said the board had canceled a regularly scheduled work session to have the Oct. 21 special meeting.

“Why hurry,” Hillian asked.

Hillian, who was available for the regularly scheduled meeting and unable to attend the rescheduled meeting due to work, said he would’ve voted “no.”

Holmes said he voted “no” during a closed session at the Oct. 21 meeting. Holmes said he was the only dissenting vote. And Mallett confirmed there was a three-to-one vote.

When asked, Alderwoman Deloris High said the decision to hire Bennett “could’ve waited.” High said she was under the impression that an offer was only being extended to the new administrator.

Bennett replaces former Granite Quarry Town Manager Phil Conrad, who was hired as interim town administrator. Conrad was hired in April and worked through August.

Conrad’s tenure came on the heels of the March resignation of a previous interim administrator, F.E. Isenhour. He had been in the interim position since December 2016 and, before that, he had been the town planner since 2014.

The board has another special meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at town hall —105 S Long St.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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