Why the secrecy and hurry?

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tryon officials had every legal right to fire town manager Justin Hembree if they felt he had not upheld his end of the contract or had violated a town policy.
We aren’t questioning that right, nor the town’s right not to publicly discuss the reasons for Hembree’s firing. But it is our duty to question why the actions were so secretive.
The town has legal protections in relation to personnel decisions. In fact, all governing bodies do. Governing bodies within this very county have often entered into closed session for personnel reasons. The restrictions on governments disclosing personnel issues are in place to protect the employee.
We’ve been at those meetings and have been present when those governments returned to open session. In some cases, they have in open session made a decision related to the closed session discussion and in others, they have not. But no case we can recall has a local government ever held a closed, emergency meeting to terminate a town manager’s employment and not come back into open session to vote on the termination.
They haven’t done so because state statutes prevent them from doing such a thing. And while the town’s meeting was apparently legal per state statutes, the Bulletin can also never remember a time when a local government held an emergency meeting and not notified the paper.
We question what was going through the minds of this handful of Tryon officials, excluding two council members, when they went about firing Hembree in this manner.
Was their reason for terminating Hembree so important that it could not wait for them to hold an open session to take action? They could have held an open emergency session even if no members of the public were in attendance, gone into closed session and re-entered the open session to take a vote. But instead, they ignored the rules and responsibilities placed upon them by the state of North Carolina and their own policies.
Now the issue will likely be taken up again at Thursday, Jan. 12’s called meeting. We doubt the result will be much different, but on Thursday there will be a vote, in front of the public and all will see who votes which way.
— Editorial staff,
Tryon Daily Bulletin

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