SPRING LAKE - Joe Durham is officially working as the interim town manager for Spring Lake with the approval of his contract, which was finalized April 18.
The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen appointed Durham interim manager by unanimous vote at the April 11 work session. Durham was sworn into office March 28 and began work that week with his contract pending.
The contract - which is between Joe Durham and Associates, the town and the Local Government Commission - was approved by the Local Government Commission on April 18.
The six-month contract outlines a fee schedule of $70 an hour not to exceed 32 hours a week. It also includes a $300 a month car allowance for his travel to the town from Raleigh.
Durham will serve as an independent contractor reporting to the Board of Aldermen and will not be eligible for employment benefits, according to the contract.
Mayor Kia Anthony did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
When announcing Durham as the interim town manager on March 24, Anthony said the board was excited about his appointment.
“He’s experienced. He’s definitely a move in the right direction to help us get this town back in order,” Anthony said at that meeting.
Durham had contracted with the town to help it find a permanent town manager. He agreed to serve on an interim basis, saying findings in a recent state audit could present challenges for a manager search. He also said he wanted to help the town get on more solid ground to help attract qualified applicants.
The audit report, which was released March 17, outlined six findings, including that the former finance director used more than $400,000 in town money for personal use and that town employees had spent over $100,000 in questionable credit card purchases.
The contract is similar to the one extended to former interim Town Manager Samantha Wullenwaber, who served as interim manager until she was dismissed by the town after the release of the audit report.
David Erwin, the town finance director appointed by the Local Government Commission, signed that the new contract had been reviewed as required by the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act. Sharon Edmundson, deputy treasurer and director of the State and Local Government Finance Division of the Department of the State Treasurer, also signed on behalf of the Local Government Commission.
The lack of a contract between Durham and the town was one of the concerns raised by the Local Government Commission in an April 6 letter to the town. The commission referred to the interim town manager being sworn in and starting work without a contract and without the commission approving the agreement.
The Local Government Commission also raised concerns about the dismissal of Wullenwaber and the hiring of Durham without public votes, which it said was a violation of the Open Meetings Law.
Anthony did not directly address Wullenwaber’s departure on March 17 in her response to the Local Government Commission dated April 12. However, she stated that the contract was between the Local Government Commission and the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments and that agreement stated it was executed on behalf of the town. She said when the Council of Governments terminated the agreement on March 3 that the 30-day provision was an accommodation that the town did not need to honor.
Durham’s contract was not included in the agenda packet prior to Monday night’s board meeting, and it was not discussed by the board. Alderman Raul Palacios added the item to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and it was approved by unanimous vote.
Durham said he wants to help the board and staff be more organized and transparent by having agenda planning sessions that would include the town clerk, the town attorney and the board.
“I’ve done this in jurisdictions I’ve worked with before,” Durham said. “I’m going to do the same here. It is important to be open and transparent at every opportunity.”
Durham has said that his first priorities were to address the state audit findings and hire financial staff to help move the town to a better position. The board is also searching for a new town attorney to replace Jonathan Charleston, who resigned March 23.
The Local Government Commission took over the town’s finances in October amid concerns over budget deficits, fiscal disarray and possible missing money. Some of those issues were addressed in the audit report.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is May 9.
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.