Who’s in charge? Board at odds over member behavior

Published 9:39 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Mocksville Town Board is made up of five individuals, with another as mayor.

Should business be handled individually, or as a group? Should individual members be allowed to give directives to town staff?

The board is expected to tackle these questions next month, after delaying a discussion last week, but only after some heated exchange.

Before adopting the agenda for the June meeting, board member Brent Ward made a motion to table, or delay, discussion on “rules of engagement.” He said the agenda was too packed for the discussion.

Board member Rob Taylor said something needs to be in place. Mayor Will Marklin said that temporary town manager, Lynn Trivette, had asked that some rules be in place.

The mayor said board members should not give directives to town staff as individuals, that all board action should be as a unit.

“I disagree,” Ward said.

Board member Amy Vaughan-Jones said the document is partly political, and asked if the town attorney had seen it. “It overrides the charter in some places,” she said, not elaborating.

Board members voted 3-2 to delay the discussion, with Vaughan-Jones, Ward and Eric Southern voting for the delay, and Taylor and Brian Williams voting against it.

When it came time for board comments near the end of the meeting, Marklin said he had met with department heads to tell them that Trivette would be town manager until another is named. Former manager Marcus Abernethy resigned a few days before the meeting.

“The board is not to give department heads direction,” Marklin said. “She doesn’t need five people (telling her what to do).” He went on to say that some department heads had said individual board members were telling them what to do.

Vaughan-Jones then spoke of the rules of engagement, and said she didn’t understand the clause that said the town manager should not engage in political activities. Town Attorney Al Benshoff said it is ethical, and is sort of like one of the 10 commandments for managers.

“I’m confused on why it came up,” Vaughan-Jones said. She said she had asked who put the item on the agenda and got no answer.

“The first rule says this board acts as a unit,” Marklin said. Benshoff agreed.

“Did we not take the ethics class?” Vaughan-Jones asked, saying that should be enough.

“We’ve got board members instructing Lynn, instructing Marcus,” Marklin said, adding that a board member had instructed town staff to buy a podium and paint town hall (That podium came in damaged, and the town was refunded its money.)” He re-iterated that the town manager was in charge of day-to-day functions of the town, and board members are more responsible for setting policy and direction.