Voiding the contract was the right move

April 9, 2014

Some will argue the Hamlet City Council’s action on Tuesday to void City Manager Marchell David’s employment contract was cowardly. Others will say it was a bold move forward.

We say it was a much-needed effort to clarify the situation.

Let’s recount, briefly, what has happened. The Hamlet City Council, when Jeff Smart was mayor and Abbie Covington, Dewey Brower, Pat Preslar, Tony Clewis and Johnathan Buie led the city last October — less than a month before the November election — moved, in a split vote, to offer David an employment contract with “indefinite terms.”

This caught our attention for a number of reasons. First, the city of Hamlet had never offered its manager an employment contract. Second, the idea that the terms were so vague as to be “indefinite” peaked our interest. Then, when David and the city of Hamlet, including former city attorney Steve Futrell declined to fulfill The Daily Journal’s Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of David’s contract — which, state law and multiple sources indicate was, despite David’s refusal to turn over the contract, a public document.

What was released was a summary of the terms, which included upon David’s involuntary separation from employment, a buyout that could have cost taxpayers one year of David’s salary. In addition, taxpayers would have paid her the value of her accrued leave and the value of 12 months’ medical insurance premiums at the city employee rate. David also garnered a 5 percent raise, though that was not mentioned in the terms of the agreement as provided by the city of Hamlet to The Daily Journal last fall.

Once the November election came and went, city leadership looked quite different. Both Smart and Covington opted not to seek re-election. Challengers Jesse McQueen and Eddie Martin beat out Brower for spots on the council. Suddenly, the mood and momentum had shifted in Hamlet’s council chambers.

And yet, there was still the idea of this new employment contract with “indefinite terms” for the city manager — a contract that not even council members were permitted to obtain a copy of after signatures dried.

Fast forward to March 11, when Hamlet hired T.C. Morphis Jr. as the new city attorney. At the council’s direction — with Buie, Martin and McQueen making the request — Morphis looked into the circumstances of the contract and drew some interesting conclusions.

As staff writer Amanda Moss reported Tuesday night on, Morphis found the contract to be questionable.

First, Morphis said, the contract had to defined term. That was unusual.

Second, the contract was against public policy.

Third, there was no preaudit certificate completed, which is required when the council enters into a contract.

That last one might be a technicality, but the sum of all parts of the conclusion was strong enough to warrant council members, in a 3-2 vote — with Buie, Martin and McQueen for and Preslar and Clewis against — to void the the contract.

As noted in Moss’ report, the lack of a contract doesn’t impact David’s employment with the city. In fact, it opens up the possibility for many things — including, if council wills it, a proper contract.

To that end, Preslar made a very valid point. David is a 20-year city employee and has maintained the position, many would argue, with honor, integrity and no small amount of success. The contract, he said, was a reward for her hard work. It might be in the council’s, and the town’s, best interest to retain a reliable, productive employee.

If a second contract is offered, we simply hope the process is more transparent that the first go-round.