Assistant Director Holly Waltemyer becomes latest to depart city’s HR staff
Assistant Director leaves for private sector
By Roger McCredie- “It’s getting pretty empty up there.”
That was how an informed source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the City of Asheville’s Human Resources Department after the third departure, in as many weeks, of a key staff member.
The source told the Tribune on Monday that Assistant HR Director Holly Waltemyer has quit her job and has been hired in an as yet unidentified capacity in the Mission Hospital System.
Waltemyer thus becomes the third HR staffer to exit that department – one way or another – in the past three weeks: Compensation and Benefits manager Ashley Lategan left the department in mid-April. And last week Kelley Dickens, the department head, was abruptly terminated.
The city made no attempt to sugar coat Dickens’ exit by calling it a resignation; instead it took the unusual step of circulating an e-mail to all employees announcing that Dickens had been “relieved of her duties” and was “treated respectfully” in the process. No explanation of the termination was given.
So far there has been no comment from City Hall on Waltemyer’s departure. There has likewise been no mention, in the city’s external communications, of Lategan’s leaving. There has been no public statement regarding Dickens, nor any elaboration on the internal e-mail regarding her.
The city’s Director of Communication and Public Engagement, Dawa Hitch, told the Tribune that in the wake of Dickens’ termination, General Services Director James Ayers has been shifted to HR as Acting Director. No replacement for Waltemyer has been named and the vacancy created by her leaving has not been posted on the city’s job openings webpage. Lategan’s old position is advertised, however, at a salary range of $56,674 to $72,543 per year.
Last week the Tribune also reported that Fleet Services Manager Mark Stevens had left city employment, and that the running of the city’s fleet operation has been taken over by Jade Dundas. Dundas was recruited from Sioux City, Iowa, last June to be the city’s new Director of Water Resources. A replacement for Dundas has not yet been named and it is still not clear whether he will remain at Fleet Services or whether a new head for that department will be recruited and Dundas will return to Water Resources.
That shuffle leaves the Water Resources Department leaderless at a crucial time: later this year the North Carolina State Supreme Court is expected to entertain and rule on the City of Asheville’s lawsuit to prevent the state from gaining control of the city’s water system.
Last month news also surfaced that Assistant City Manager Paul Fetherston was being considered for a city government job in Ann Arbor, Michigan, after having been at his Asheville post for less than two years.
However, on Monday night the Ann Arbor city council ratified a resolution it had adopted on April 18 awarding that job to Howard Lazarus, the former Public Works Director of the City of Austin, Texas, at a starting salary of $215,000 a year.
Fetherston’s Asheville stint began when he was hired out of Boulder, Colorado, where he had served a six-year stint as Deputy City Manager. Prior to that he had been Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of Canton, Connecticut. Now that Ann Arbor has made its decision it is not known if he intends to continue his job search while remaining at his city post.
While no common thread for the rash of shakeups has been uncovered, the HR department, at least, has a well-documented recent history of upheaval.
In 2010 four HR department members, including the then director and assistant director, were charged with multiple offenses in connection with a months-long investigation into allegations of fraud within the city’s flexible-spending benefits operation. All four employees were terminated. Two employees respectively entered guilty pleas to charges of obtaining property by false pretenses and obtaining property by false pretenses plus forgery. Charges against another employee were dropped. The director, Lisa Richmond (Lisa Roth at the time of her trial), was charged with felony obstruction of justice and misdemeanor making false statements; however, she was found not guilty of one charge and the other charge was dropped.
Richmond then sued the City of Asheville, claiming that she had been maliciously prosecuted. She maintained that the charges against her had been brought in retaliation for her having gone on record as opposing a proposed enhanced compensation package for senior police officers, a move which resulted in a direct confrontation with then-Chief of Police William Hogan.
Richmond’s suit was dismissed in 2014. The dismissal was upheld on appeal in 2015.
At the time the charges were filed, the national Society for Human Resource Management said, “Allegations of criminal activity by HR staff members working for the city of Asheville, N.C., have tested the government’s crisis management process.”
And Michael Colledge, manager of faculty compensation for Brigham Young University and a member of the SHRM’s Ethics Special Expertise Panel, said, “Frankly, I just don’t see how you recover fully from something like this … once trust is broken in a situation like this one, it is a very hard thing to regain and will take years to rebuild.”
It was in the aftermath of the 2010 scandals that Dickens was hired, according to city records. Waltemyer was hired by the city in April, 2012.