Bryson City tackles personnel issues in closed meetings
Personnel issues have been the only reason why Bryson City Aldermen have held closed meetings in 2018.
The board meets about twice a month for a regular board meeting and a work session, but has only gone into closed session six times. However, since all six meetings were regarding personnel issues, the minutes don’t reflect much detail about the conversation.
The first two closed meetings of the year were held Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, and aldermen were discussing possible candidates for the vacant town manager position. The minutes only state who made the motion to go into closed session and to come back into open session. No action was taken after the Jan. 8 meeting, but aldermen came out of the Jan. 11 closed session and Alderman Heidi Ramsey-Woodward motioned to hire Regina Mathis as the new town manager with a starting salary of $68,000 with a potential increase of $5,000 after a six-month performance evaluation. The motion passed.
On March 19, the board went into closed session to discuss a personnel policy regarding political activity “as it relates to a town employee running for sheriff.”
The issue at hand was Bryson City police officer Rocky Sampson running for sheriff on the Democratic ticket. The current town policy forced him to be on unpaid leave during the entire election.
North Carolina’s law regarding open meetings does allow governing bodies to go into closed session to discuss personnel issues, but points out that they can’t go into closed session to discuss policy issues.
Based on the decision made when the aldermen came out of the closed session, it appears the town aldermen may have violated the law by discussing policy changes behind closed doors, and also by not releasing the minutes surrounding that discussion.
According to the closed session minutes released, Woodward made a motion to make two changes to the personnel policy related to political activity once the board returned to open session. The policy, which previously required town employees running for public office to be placed on unpaid leave, was changed to only apply to partisan offices 30 days before a primary election. If an employee is successful in a primary election, the leave without pay must be extended until the day after the general election.
The July 23 closed session was a discussion of an employee’s performance and an improvement plan to monitor the employee’s performance. No action was taken. On Oct. 1, it appears the same employee’s performance was discussed as well as a follow-up on the improvement plan and a plan for a possible replacement if needed.
Lastly, the board talked about police department personnel during a Dec. 3 closed meeting that included a discussion about the structure of positions and continued shortage of patrolmen due to military leave and light duty. No action was taken.
The town of Bryson City was cooperative and provided the closed session minutes within a few days of the request. Overall, the town could be more transparent with providing minutes to the public. Agendas sent out to the media don’t include drafted minutes from the last meeting or any backup documentation. The town’s website also doesn’t provide any town meeting minutes for the public to view.