The full version: Alderman Jon Feichter's explanation behind his vote
Why I Voted to Dismiss
The decision to dismiss Marcy Onieal as Waynesville’s Town Manager was a complicated one, but as one board member in a majority of three, I felt there was more than sufficient cause. For the record, I like Marcy and admire much of the work she did as directed by the previous board. By all accounts, she was effective at the fine technical aspects of administering the town, but I believe there is more to the job. My decision was primarily based on concern over ongoing staff departures, low town employee morale and increasing board division. As you read on, there are two things I ask you to keep in mind:
1.I was comprehensive and fair in my pursuit of information. I spoke with over 50 current and former town employees (both for and against), each of my fellow board members (including former Alderman Wells Greeley), concerned citizens and certainly Marcy herself. All told, I spent well over 100 hours gathering information.
2.I was not allowed to recuse myself from voting. Some fairly suggested I should have done so because of a past business relationship my company had with the town. Believe me, I considered recusal carefully. However, I was told by Marcy and an attorney with the UNC School of Government that I was legally required to vote.
As for the reasons behind my decision, the most significant was my concern over the loss of several key staff members during Marcy’s tenure with additional losses forthcoming should we decide to retain her. One former employee’s story seemed to be emblematic of the problem. This man had nearly 20 years of experience as a town employee. He loved his job, his fellow employees and this wonderful town. He told me he retired 2 1/2 years early because he could no longer work for Marcy. I heard this same kind of thing over and over. Two key employees told me directly that if she were retained at Tuesday’s meeting they’d be turning in their notices on Wednesday. The sheer number of times I heard this kind of story coupled with my belief we hadn’t seen the end of it raised my concern that Waynesville was not being well served.
I also found a troubling morale problem affecting large numbers of Waynesville’s employees. During conversations with them, I heard them estimate as many as 80% of their co-workers suffered from low morale. This is perhaps the most difficult of the factors to get a firm grip on and it’s caused by lots of reasons. To understand the situation, I used an old school simple method: ask employees to rank the overall state of morale on a scale of 1-10, with “1” being abysmal and “10” being exceptional. The most common answer I got was a “3”. The lowest was “1” and the highest “7”. Granted, this wasn’t a scientific process. However, I believe it indicated an emerging, serious problem for Waynesville that might result in lost productivity from things like on-the-job disengagement and absenteeism.
The last thing that significantly influenced my decision was the division between board members. Positions were set in stone well before I was elected this past November. Two aldermen were opposed to the town manager and the mayor and one alderman stood in support. Most distressing was it didn’t appear to me that either side would ever change its stance. The longer this situation went on, the more intransigent each faction became. I was concerned that the division would continue and have a negative impact on our decision making going forward.
One last thing that warrants mention. I assure you I do appreciate the financial implications of this decision. After all, I am also a taxpayer of this municipality. However, I ask you to consider the costs incurred to hire and train new employees due to turnover or those resulting from the drag on productivity related to slumping morale. While there is definitely a cost to us taxpayers in dismissing her, I believe the costs to retain her would have been higher over the long-term.
In sum, while Marcy’s tenure had its successes, I learned of troubling employee turmoil and our board wasn’t making progress. It was time to make a tough call and move on. Thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective. I will always seek to understand yours and that of the employees of the Town of Waynesville. This decision was gut wrenching and easily the most difficult I’ve ever made; personal or professional. It was also carefully made and was the result of a lot of hard work.
Thanks for listening.
Jon Feichter, Alderman
Town of Waynesville