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The full version: Town Manager Marcy Onieal's address to the town board

Mayor & Board:

I have no additional reports tonight, but if I may take a brief moment of personal privilege, I would simply like to address the elephant in the room, since I have apparently become that elephant.

While I appreciate the very positive comments that have been reported in the media about my leadership and the many comments and gestures of support I have received from both employees and members of the community, the attention and media circus surrounding the status of my continued employment with the Town of Waynesville have become a most uncomfortable distraction that is detrimental to both employees and the community alike.  The last thing I ever expected, or wanted, was to become front page news or a lightning rod for this board and community.

I and the Town’s 260 other employees have  come to work every day for the past month trying to serve this community with honor, integrity and professionalism, amid rumor, speculation, half-truths, and innuendo, without any formal communication or direction as to what this board is thinking or what direction it is going.  

Regardless of what personal agendas may have been at work behind the scenes, both inside and outside the organization, throughout the election campaign season, and regardless of where each of you may individually stand with regard to my continued leadership of this organization, it is imperative that the five of you get back on the same sheet of music for the good of this community as soon as possible, because to do anything else, is unfair to our employees, to me, and to the citizens who have shown their faith in your leadership by electing you to office.

Waynesville, as a local government, has a reputation for being progressive and professional and for having a unified board.  Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I even wanted to accept a position here.  A unified board is a rarity in today’s political environment that, at all levels of government, more often showcases incivility in public discourse and a divide & conquer/win-lose mentality.  

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Having worked with you for the past four years, I know that even though the five of you did not naturally agree on many issues, you were a board that worked hard together to achieve consensus.  As has been acknowledged by all of you, everything the staff and I have accomplished in the last four years was done at your direction on a 5-0 vote, with a single exception, which now, Mr. Caldwell has since acknowledged was a mistake and that if he had it to do over, he would vote in favor of individually assigned police vehicles.

I applaud you for having engaged for the first time as a group this weekend in the School of Government’s Local Elected Officials Academy.  I was hoping this would be an opportunity for the six of us to take advantage of the training available, and our time together, to reach a common understanding of where we are heading.  Perhaps had we taken this kind of time together in partnership before now, we would not be where we are tonight.  Nonetheless, your commitment to becoming a more effective board, and to understanding the roles and relationships between board and manager is commendable and will only enhance your future work as a board together.

One thing that no doubt resonated from your training this weekend is that all town managers in NC are at-will employees who serve at the pleasure of their boards.  I knew when I signed on here, that I could walk in on any given day, and that if three of you didn’t like the color of my hair, or what I was wearing, or an election occurred that upset the equilibrium and you just wanted someone else in my place, that with three votes, I would be gone.  You don’t need a reason to fire me, you just can, and frankly, I appreciate that some of you have recently clarified your interests in the newspaper.  

There are three things I cannot deliver on as your town manager.  I cannot change my gender; I do not yet have the 20+ year relationship with Mr. Caldwell, Dr. Roberson, and Mr. Feichter that my predecessor had; and I cannot miraculously turn myself into Lee Galloway.  Only one person has those qualifications, and that is, in fact, my predecessor. 

What I have provided you as town manager and what I can continue to offer you as town manager are those qualities that four of you saw in me when you pointed to me four years ago, after a grueling public assessment process, and said she’s the one.  I stand today for the same values you said you wanted in a manager and that I have tried to consistently model throughout my entire career – transparency, openness, integrity, responsiveness to our citizens and businesses, commitment to best practices, fairness and equity in treatment of all our citizens and employees, with the energy and enthusiasm to keep moving our community forward.  

But I also recognize that we are not dealing with the board that hired me.  For better or worse, there is difference of opinion that has emerged about my leadership among the four incumbents on the board.  Mr. Feichter, as the newcomer to the board, has been put in a very awkward situation in his first full meeting of this board.

And that brings me back to where we are tonight – the mayor has already mentioned it, and I am asking you, affirmatively, to deal with my employment status tonight -- so that we all can all move on – one way or the other.  

Because to fail to deal with my employment status, leaves employees wondering from whom they’re to take their marching orders.  Is it the two incumbents who feel one way; the two incumbents who feel the other way?  Is it the newcomer to the board?  Is it the former town manager?  Is it the current town manager or some manager yet to be named?  Or shall employees feel free to run amok because the board remains divided and will not support its hired manager regardless?

You have four options ahead of you tonight:

1) You can take a vote of confidence in my leadership and continue to move forward in partnership on the many projects, plans and opportunities that we have been talking about for the past four years

2) You can do absolutely nothing, and although that leaves the future somewhat in limbo, without clearing the air, I remain employed because my contract is a perpetual contract, until you terminate my employment or until we mutually agree upon alternative terms of employment

3) You can terminate me as of a date certain tonight with a majority vote

4) You can either continue to employee me, or terminate my employment, on a negotiated basis that changes the terms of my current employment agreement with the Town.

Since none of you have discussed any of those options with me, nor to my knowledge have you discussed them with each other, I recognize that your closed session will need to deal with this issue, and I am pleased to join you in closed session, or not, as you see fit.  If you choose to go into closed session without me, I would remind you that you need someone to take minutes, and I will dutifully await your decision, whatever that may be. 

I would like to close by saying that I am incredibly grateful to have served this board – all five of you and Mr. Greeley before you -- and to have served the employees and citizens of the Town of Waynesville for the past four years.  This has been my dream job.  My husband and I committed fully to being here in Waynesville, to making friends here and to contributing positively in every way we can.  Regardless of your decision, we have invested in this community in so many ways and love it for the same reason that all of you do, and we have no intention of going anywhere else, because this is our home.

Whether I am employed by the Town of Waynesville one more hour, another month, another year, or another decade, I have the utmost respect for the five of you and will continue to loyally and professionally serve you and this community, to the best of my ability, right up until the moment you no longer require my service, whenever that might be.

And the last thing I want to assure you, and it’s something I’m sure you already know and trust – is that regardless of who your manager is – Lee Galloway, Marcy Onieal, or someone yet to come – this town is blessed with outstanding department directors, operations team members and employees at every level of the organization.  I was quite fortunate to inherit some outstanding leadership when I got here and I’ve hired outstanding leadership since I’ve been here.  So regardless of whether you decide to change coaches tonight, you have a winning team ready to keep serving this Town with integrity and honor.  I hope you won’t disappoint them whatever your decision may be.  

Marcy’s Preferences (discussed confidentially w/ mayor for negotiating in closed session since none of them had discussed any of this with me at any point prior):

1) Vote of confidence in leadership – keep working/put issue to rest

2) 3-2 Vote in favor of keeping me as manager (I am aware that Jon Feichter would like to recuse himself from voting.  There is no legal basis for recusal – he is obligated to vote.  The only way he can’t vote is to be absent from the meeting at that point.  Whatever the motion is, his absence will be counted as a yes vote for the motion).

3) Negotiate termination as a “resignation” under the following terms:

• I actually stay employed as “consultant to the Town” at full salary and benefits for a period of one year from action.  Whether you use me as a consultant at any point for anything during that period is up to you.  My actual departure date from the office is negotiable – I’m willing to stay up to 45 days in the office and am willing to leave as early as the end of January (after Amie returns from vacation)

• Mutual non-disclosure/non-disparagement

• I technically resign/we part friends/5-0 vote/win-win

• Virtually same cost to town as severance but looks better for all

4) Fire me in open session and meet the terms of my employment agreement

5) Do nothing/no vote – Jon makes some statement in reference to needing to be on board, work with new manager, see for self how things are going, give manager a chance to re-establish relationship with new board.

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