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Wednesday, 22 December 2010 20:33

Wooten to serve as stopgap Jackson County manager

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Chuck Wooten will become interim Jackson County manager for six months or so starting next month.

Commissioners this week in a unanimous vote hired Wooten for $10,000 a month. Wooten retires Jan. 1 from Western Carolina University after 30 years as vice chancellor for administration and finance. He starts his new, temporary job Jan. 3. Wooten once worked as county manager for Iredell County.

“I’m going to try to help this board bridge this gap,” Wooten said, adding that he believes he can help Jackson County successfully move through an upcoming budget cycle and select a new permanent county manager.

Kenneth Westmoreland is technically Jackson County’s manager until Jan. 1 — but his last official day in office took place earlier this month.

Depending on which man you believe, Commission Chairman Jack Debnam or Westmoreland, the three newest commissioners in Jackson County either asked Westmoreland to leave (the county manager’s version), or he left of his own volition (Debnam’s version).

Westmoreland has served as Jackson County manager for almost a decade. His actions as the county’s top leader became a campaign issue, particularly the implementation of a new pay-scale system that was targeted as too generous to long-time employees like himself.

When Democrats Brian McMahan, William Shelton and Tom Massie lost to Debnam (an Independent with GOP backing) and Republicans Charles Elders and Doug Cody, it was general knowledge that Westmoreland’s tenure as manager was likely over.

Two Democrats remain on the board, each with two years remaining in their four-year terms: Joe Cowan and Mark Jones. For the most part, with two meetings having taken place to date, the Democrats have voted along harmoniously with their more conservative board members.

How much power the future county manager of Jackson County will be allowed under this particular board of commissioners is in question. Unlike city managers in North Carolina, a county manager is not granted automatic statutory authority to hire, fire and discipline employees. The manager performs these duties only if the board allows this to happen.

In their first meeting as a group, commissioners took that power into their own hands. Questioned this week, Debnam said the matter would be revisited at a later time, but for now all hires and fires will come before the board.

“I think we needed a little bit more control over what was happening,” Debnam said.

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