SILER CITY — A missing referendum for the upcoming election ballot generated a heated discussion at Siler City town hall during the council’s second monthly meeting on Oct. 16.
Town Manager Hank Raper told the North State Journal that they were surprised when they found out the referendum wasn’t included in the ballot. During the meeting, Mayor “Chip” Price questioned Raper about the steps taken by the staff.
“Why was there no contact between town staff and the Board of Elections after May 31?” asked Price after reviewing email correspondence between the town clerk and the Chatham County Board of Elections shared in the agenda packet.
The mayor insisted on determining who was responsible for the oversight, after everything had been approved months ago, pointing at the town manager for dropping the ball.
“Who was responsible for seeing that this referendum was placed on the ballot? Who's supposed to do that?” he asked.
As tension continued to build, a few members of the crowd departed as Mayor Price continued to interrogate the town manager about the timing of disclosures. Raper responded that the meeting seemed the appropriate time to share it with the board.
“We worked hard the last couple of weeks to try to remedy the situation and plan to get it on the primary ballot on March 2024, so it will have the same effect as it would have been in the ballot this November,” Raper told the North State Journal. “Election staff reached out Friday and said they would reach out to the School of Government for clarification and get back with us – they did not. I think the staff believed after that they had what they needed to get it added to the ballot.”
Commissioner at Large Cynthia Bray, criticized the mayor’s approach to handling the situation, stating that he was making it a personal issue. “It is going on too long for you trying to break him in front of everybody,” Bray added.
The town attorney and the town manager mentioned a few times they might need to go into a closed session to discuss further. Raper stated that employee performance should not be discussed openly in a public meeting.
Commissioner Lewis Fadely remarked "The solution cannot be in the past. We made it on the record. I don't want to point fingers. We can go round and round. I think we made the record official and I think now we need to move forward to get in on the ballots as soon as possible.”
After a resolution of intent and timeline schedule for the mayor’s term expansion passed, Mayor Price made a motion to remove the town manager.
“I feel the time has come for the board to decide to replace the town manager,” said Price. He asked for comments, then moved for a vote. Three board members voted in favor of letting the town manager go and four voted against it.
Raper told the North State Journal that he was “absolutely not expecting that. "Have you ever known of someone almost being terminated from the job because somebody on their staff didn’t send an email? That is not something you wouldn’t typically see in any position... I think people can see that for what it is,” said Raper.
The town manager explained that when the emails were sent, the town clerk was out of the office, and the previous town clerk who now supervises her tried to help out by sending the email to the elections staff to get the ball rolling.
"All employees report to me, so, I am responsible for what any employee does," said Raper, who directly supervises 12 department heads and is responsible for the performance of 92 full-time employees.
“I think the whole thing last night was unfortunate and it wasn’t necessary, now we have to pick up the pieces and move forward. We got a lot of things happening in Siler City. We need to move the town forward so this can be a successful place for people to bring their families."