by Jordan Green
The High Point City Council has spent several closed-session meetings discussing a grievance filed against the city manager by a senior-level employee. The dispute has now been settled, but there are indications the city manager is still under scrutiny.
A grievance filed by High Point Human Relations Director Al Heggins against City Manager Strib Boynton has been resolved, but the city manager might not be quite out of the woods.
The High Point Enterprise first reported in February that Heggins filed a grievance against Boynton over an alleged verbal confrontation between the two. At council’s direction, the city has hired two separate law firms to investigate the grievance, and has met in closed session on a number of occasions to discuss the matter. The city initially hired Greensboro-based Smith Moore Leatherwood law firm, but later replaced them with Raleigh-based Poyner Spruill because of a conflict of interest.
“The dispute has been settled to the satisfaction of both parties,” Heggins told Triad City Beat.
Following the most recent closed-session meeting to discuss the matter, on April 3, Councilman Jason Ewing reported that as far as council is concerned, the matter is also settled. Related to the administrative resolution of the dispute at the city level, City Attorney JoAnne Carlyle added that a related complaint filed by Heggins with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also been resolved.
Boynton declined to comment on the status of the grievance.
Boynton has served as city manager for the High Point for 16 years, and earns a salary of $168,168. A clause for termination and severance pay in the city manager’s original contract specified that in the event that Boynton was fired, the city would pay him a lump sum cash payment equal to one month aggregate and all benefits for every year of service capped at six years. In 2006, the council amended Boynton’s contract to lift the cap on his severance pay from six to 12 months.
Boynton was hired in 1997 and his contract was amended in 2006 under the leadership of Becky Smothers as mayor. Smothers and Judy Mendenhall, another former mayor, continue to serve on council. Smothers and Mendenhall both voted in favor of a resolution seeking the resignation of the current mayor, Bernita Sims.
The duration of Boynton’s tenure with the city of High Point far exceeds that of either of his counterparts in the Triad’s two larger cities. In comparison, Lee Garrity was appointed to lead the city of Winston-Salem in July 2006, and Jim Westmoreland took the top job in Greensboro only two months ago.
Heggins was hired in August 2004, and earns $95,480. She was recently invited to the White House and recognized as one of its Champions of Change for convening a series of community focus groups comprised of immigrants and non-immigrants to devise a plan to integrate the city’s culturally diverse residents.
Notwithstanding the resolution of Heggins’ complaint, Carlyle said the Poyner Spruill law firm remains “engaged with the city.”
Asked whether there are other outstanding issues concerning the city manager that remain under investigation or review, Carlyle and Ewing both declined to comment, citing personnel issues.
Ewing said councilmembers received an update on Heggins grievance from Poynter Spruill during the April 3 closed session. He said the purpose of hiring an outside law firm was so that councilmembers could avoid getting directly involved in a personnel issue.
“We, council, agreed to bring in outside legal counsel to investigate this,” Ewing said. “We did not want to have any knowledge of it. We didn’t want to be informed of the specifics.”
Carlyle declined to address whether council received any advice from Poyner Spruill and if so whether they took the advice.
“I can’t comment on this because it would have been a personnel-related matter, and any discussions would have taken place in closed session,” Carlyle said.
In other news, the council reviewed recommendations by a committee chaired by Ewing to reduce funding to the nonprofit City Project from $210,000 to $35,000. Ewing’s committee released the recommendations to the rest of council during a finance committee meeting on Monday. The city currently pays the salary of City Project’s executive director, Wendy Fuscoe, who earns $100,828. City Project, the equivalent of Downtown Greensboro Inc. and Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, has coordinated efforts to revive downtown High Point by infusing design principles championed by new-urbanism founder Andres Duany. Ewing said the recommended budget strips out funding for Fuscoe’s salary and office operations, leaving only $35,000 for specific purposes. Among the larger line items in a budget provided by Ewing for City Project that the city would continue to fund are $25,000 for consulting and professional fees for “continued marketing, education and public awareness”; $3,000 for rack cards, maps, brochures, flyers and marketing materials; and $2,500 for a façade program.
Ewing said that under new rules adopted by council to prevent conflicts of interest, two members of the committee responsible for recommending funding for nonprofits were recused on the City Project item. Councilman Jay Wagner and Councilman Jeff Golden both serve on City Project’s board of directors. That left Ewing and Mendenhall, the two remaining members of the committee, to make the call.