Another empty desk graces the Dewey-Humboldt Town Hall after the council terminated its community development director at the Oct. 18 council meeting.
By the next morning, Linda Baker, records manager, submitted her resignation letter stating she could no longer work in a hostile situation. Board of Adjustments member G. Odis Brockman, who works directly with Dennis Price on permit and code issues, also resigned.
The council fired Price, who worked as community development director for the past three years, by a 4-3 vote, on a motion by Councilman David Hiles.
Council members Hiles, John Dibble, Denise Rogers and Vice Mayor Mark McBrady voted to terminate Price; council members Nancy Wright, Dennis Repan and Mayor Terry Nolan voted against the termination.
Most councils are not involved in hiring and firing town employees, the town manager is responsible for staff. But D-H has not had a town manager for more than a year, and if Yvonne Kimball accepts the position, her start date will be Jan. 3, too long to wait, Hiles said.
Hiles related several instances to support his motion to terminate Price immediately. In one instance he believed Price had held up issuing a permit and was "holding a family hostage." He brought up Price's "anger and defensiveness" during a Sept. 7 council discussion about Price's difficulty obtaining permit applications from Gary Mortimer, a Dewey-Humboldt business owner. Hiles also said Price provided the Planning and Zoning Commission with inaccurate information from council at a Sept. 8 P&Z meeting. "He seems to relish in the ability to tell somebody 'no' rather than giving suggestions," Hiles said.
In a Sept. 14 meeting with Price, Mayor Nolan and Town Clerk Judy Morgan, the mayor told Hiles, "you have to stop ridiculing staff," and Price said to Hiles, "You're nothing but a (expletive) bully."
Price isn't the first to call a D-H council member a bully. When Interim Town Manager Art Castricone left his position after 10 weeks, he said in a March 1 council meeting, "What we're getting from council is anger, abuse and a whole lot of bullying."
Rogers, McBrady and Dibble did not add to the discussion. Repan said he wasn't sure what Price was accused of, given his expertise.
Nolan pointed out that Price's job set him up to be the bad guy when residents came in to the planning department and were unhappy about some town ordinances and restrictions.
"That's his position. That's his job to give that information out. Our job is to amend the ordinances," Nolan said.
Hiles said he had nothing against the way Price enforces codes or ordinances, but questioned whether Price's name calling should be tolerated.
Nolan said he agreed with Price, "and I think you are a (expletive) bully. It's just a statement. Sorry if you're offended by it," to which Hiles said he was.
After the meeting, Rogers said she felt Price was doing his job, but it was his attitude that was the problem. Dibble, who also voted to terminate Price, called it an unfortunate situation and an unfortunate way to handle it, and declined to talk about his working relationship with Price.
Several people from the community spoke to the council both in support and against Price. Mortimer said he had no opinion about firing Price, but cautioned the council and mayor about showing respect to co-workers.
Business owner Chris Berry said outside of town government matters he would call Price a friend, but said Price was not the person to be in the community development position. The job requires someone willing to work toward solutions and be less "rigid."
Jerry Piper said Price held up a project of his for a year and a half, and he hoped the council wouldn't wait for the new town manager to deal with the director. "If you're going to get rid of somebody, get rid of him now. I could fill that school gym with people who've had problems with Dennis," Piper said.
Lydia Chapman, D-H Board of Adjustments member, suggested the council first document the complaints, then talk with Price, set a timeline, and watch for improvement.
"I feel uncomfortable doing this to a person in public. It's a spectacle, it's unkind and cruel," Chapman said.
Cathy Jackson said she was at the Sept. 7 meeting and didn't think Price was at fault in his interaction with the Mortimers, but rather Hiles was the one with the attitude.
"If staff does anything, does their job and it doesn't suit the council, their employment is at risk or you become so miserable you will resign. The bullying comes from the council members," Jackson said.
She, too, questioned the history of complaints against Price and said she believes the request for termination was a personal vendetta by one or more council members.
After a records request, Town Clerk Morgan said Price's file has no record of any disciplinary action. Price said on Wednesday that his last performance evaluation by former town manager William Emerson indicated there was nothing wrong with his work other than he needed to work on his public speaking skills.
"You're never going to make everybody happy in this job. It's all about rules, regulations and enforcement. Anybody who says, 'Gee, he wasn't flexible enough,' well, there are things in place like state law, you don't have the choice to be flexible. It is what it is. It's black and white. You can't deal in shades of gray," Price said.
At attorney Susan Goodwin's suggestion, council asked Price if he had anything to say before the council voted.
"I think that a lot of what was said here is untrue, it's unfounded, and unfair. I just want to do my job," he said.
Council member Wright, who voted against termination, said after the meeting that it wouldn't have been a hardship to wait until the new town manager was on board, and that she thought the action was because of a personality issue between two people.
Castricone, who still lives in D-H, expressed his shock at the council's action and said he hopes the town has justification for the dismissal; otherwise, the town could lose additional community assets through a form of settlement.
With the absence of Price, five of the eight fulltime positions at town hall stand vacant. Morgan and Ed Hanks, public works employee, will hold down the fort, along with Gregory Arrington, part-time code enforcement and community outreach person.