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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Carolina Beach Budget Meeting Heats Up Over Vote To Lift Hiring Freeze

Carolina Beach Budget Meeting Heats Up Over Vote To Lift Hiring Freeze

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - At the Carolina Beach Town Council's March 13, meeting Councilman Steve Shuttleworth made a motion to implement a hiring freeze on all positions except the position of Fire Chief.
Shuttleworth said, "I'm asking him not to hire a chief of police" and freeze other vacant positions to allow discussion of the positions and funding during the budget planning process.
The Council voted three to two in favor of Shuttleworth's motion on the hiring freeze. Council members Shuttleworth, Friede and Lewis voted in favor. Mayor Rothrock and Councilman Lashley voted no.
The Council held a continued meeting on March 30, to "consider various recommendations by the Police Advisory Committee and to discuss any other matters in follow-up to the March 13th meeting. Also at this time Council will hold a work session to continue discussions concerning the proposed Budget for FY 2012/2013."
During that meeting Councilman Bob Lewis had to leave early.
After Bob left the meeting, the Council continued discussing budget items at length. Later in the meting Mayor Ray Rothrock called for a vote. He stated, "I make a motion that we give the manager the authority to hire the chief of police and others as he sees fit for the Town of Carolina Beach. The reason I say that is because of what you just said, the importance of the Chief's position and you as the manager, you know what the Town needs as far as part time employees and water and sewer."
Council member Sarah Friede said, "We just adopted a hiring freeze..." Councilman Shuttleworth explained, "I can't support that Ray until we get through the budget process. That was the whole conversation we had before."
Freide said, "I'd like to wait just another couple of months."
Councilman Lonnie Lashley said, "I want to go forward with the police chief. You interviewed three... did one fall out that you would want to hire."
Town Manager Tim Owens explained, "I'd rather not talk allot about that unless we go into closed session."
Lashley said, "Ok. Well fine. Hell, we go into closed session every damn time we meet so I don't mind going into closed session."
Rothrock called for the vote.
He and Lashley voted in favor. Freide and Shuttleworth voted no.
Rothrock said, "It carries three to two. Bob is gone. He didn't ask to be excused" and his vote would then count as an affirmative vote in favor of the motion.
Shuttleworth said, "Please put it on the agenda to bring up at the next council meeting. Because I think that was a pretty low shot there Ray and I think that was strategic and you did that on purpose when Bob left in order for it to be a two to two vote."
Rothrock said, "Didn't know it until he left. But I had that motion in my mind." He told the Town Manager, "You can hire the chief of police and anybody else you see fit." He then called for a five-minute recess.
Shuttleworth said he and Rothrock spoke in the Mayor's office during the recess and he advised Rothrock of his strong objection to the Mayor's action.
On Tuesday April 3, Councilman Lewis commented that, "It's Ray's deal. It's a power play for Ray. He thinks he was voted King but obviously doesn't understand our form of government."
Lewis said the decision making process is, "In the whole of the Town Council, we are each one vote."
Lewis said, "The item will certainly be on the agenda for our next meeting on April 10" and said, "Everyone is losing respect for Ray" based on recent actions.
He said, "Ray had every right to call for a vote but next time we have a budget workshop, I'm going to make sure it's not a meeting where council votes on items like it was a regular meeting."
Lewis said the original motion at the March 13, meeting was done to implement a hiring freeze to give the Council time to research and understand the overall financial needs of the Town and work towards a budget that may prevent a property tax increase.
Shuttleworth said he understands that any council member can call for a vote, but it was extremely unprofessional for Rothrock to call for a vote on that particular item after Bob Lewis had left the meeting because he knew Lewis' position. Shuttleworth said when the vote was tied, Rothrock wasted no time pointing out that Lewis was not officially excused by a vote of the Council and therefore his absence counted as a yes vote.
Shuttleworth and Lewis said they both don't anticipate Tim Owens will hire anyone before the April 10, meeting when the item will be revisited for another vote because of the evident controversy among Council members regarding the March 30, vote.
At the Council's March 13, meeting the original question of the hiring freeze which resulted in a three to two vote on the council centered on finding out where the Town stood financially before filling vacant positions in the Operations Department and the Police Chief's position. They hired a new Fire Chief because the interim chief was also a volunteer fireman.
At the March 13, meeting Shuttleworth said, "I'm asking Tim not to hire a chief of police" and freeze other vacant positions to allow discussion of the positions and funding during the budget planning process.
Mayor Ray Rothrock explained, "If you would not include the chief of police in there I might support it". He said, "I think the chief of police as well as the fire chief are key positions and all that has gone on toward the advertising and hiring and interviewing, and interviews already scheduled, that it would undermine us getting a chief of police that we need" in that position.
He said, "For that reason, I won't support it."
Councilman Lonnie Lashley said, "We've been without a police chief since December, or earlier. Now you want to go four more months. I can't see a department going six months with an acting chief. They need to put someone in there to lead that. They can address the vacancies."
Councilman Bob Lewis explained, "I think there's ideas coming forward from Council members on budgets that there might be consolidation of departments. Not specifically the police department, but consolidation of director positions. There might be some other ideas around how we address particular budget items until we get to the budget."
Lewis said, "I appreciate where you guys are coming from. There's a leadership position out there and right now we have a person who is doing it in a temporary position. But I've talked to police officers and they don't seem to have a morale issue anymore and things seem to be operating ok at this point. I'd rather wait."
Shuttleworth said, "My reason for making the motion was, we do have an acting chief. He has been with the department for a number of years and he seems to be carrying the weight fine. I would just like to at least - through the budget meetings coming up - have the discussion of what the structure is of our income and expenses for the community." He said, "I agree whole heartedly that we should not micro-mange. It's up to the Town Manager to hire whoever he wants. I'm not asking him to hire this person or that person, I'm saying don't hire anybody until we figure out a budget."
He said, "Yes Lonnie, we've been four months and I don't see a bunch of new crime activity and the morale seems to be ok and they seem to be operating alright."
Shuttleworth said the fire chief position is different because of the volunteer fire fighter aspect.
Town Manager Tim Owens said it's a council decision to freeze positions. He said, "We've asked one guy to come from Florida and two to come from within North Carolina" to interview for the police chief position. Owens said, "There may not be a candidate that shakes out of this. We are interviewing a few folks. I don't know if there will be a candidate. We may continue with an interim acting chief or we may find a candidate that is suitable."
Owens explained, "We've gone from 117 budget positions down to less than 95. I can tell you right now there probably aren't many towns that have cut twenty percent of their staff. I feel like we are adequately staffed where we need to be."
Owens said, "There are other options. You mentioned consolidating some departments. I'm personally not necessarily in favor of that but we can talk through those. I think you will end up hiring a bunch of temps and probably still be about the same budget-wise as you are."
Shuttleworth said his motion didn't concern consolidating departments nor directing Owens not to interview applicants for the police chief position.
Council member Sarah Friede explained, "I think in this kind of economy if its the right job and you say to somebody, listen, we are in the middle of the budget process, it will be a couple of months, we're not in a position to make an offer right now. I think people will wait for the right job. I think people in this economy are happy to have a job and a new job opportunity."
She explained that interim chief Kurt Bartley hasn't come to the Council indicating there are any issues with public safety or morale among officers. She explained, "It is crucial to have a police department that is well staffed and has a good leader but I think if we can hold off on this for another couple of months until we get the budget in place we will be in a better position to at least discuss the salary range that we can offer. We are going to have to make some really hard decisions in the budget process."
She said the Council could always reconsider anytime between now and adoption of the budget in June.
Shuttleworth said, "If we come out of the March meeting and we are 90% there" they could reconsider the issue.
Mayor Rothrock said, "What you're saying now is, don't hire a chief of police until Steve Shuttleworth is satisfied with the budget."
Shuttleworth said, "No, I'm saying until the budget is approved."
Rothrock said, "It may be approved the second Tuesday of June. If it is, then the manager can do whatever he wants to."