By Leslee Kulba- Jon Creighton, who serves as Buncombe County’s planning director, announced he will be retiring effective January 1. Both he and former Health and Human Services Director Mandy Stone had been serving double-duty as assistant county managers; but Stone, who is now the county manager, will be eliminating the part-time assistant county manager positions. Beginning February 1, the assistant county managers will be replaced by a single fulltime assistant manager, Jim Holland. Holland had been promoted to fill Stone’s positions when she became manager.
Creighton served as the county’s director of planning for 33 years and assistant county manager for 25. Among his most important accomplishments he lists instituting countywide zoning, which he believes has made developers plan with more respect for the environment and resources. Last year, Creighton received $176,875 for his directorship and $71,094 as assistant county manager. County spokespeople are saying Creighton’s departure has nothing to do with the ongoing federal investigation of the former county manager. At age 65, Creighton had already worked six months beyond the terms of his retention incentive.
His resignation was no surprise. According to County Attorney Mike Frue, the county’s previously-announced restructuring of the manager’s office was to some degree motivated by Creighton’s decision. Frue is once again serving as county attorney having split his duties four years ago with Bob Deutsch. Deutsch worked as a special attorney for the commissioners while Frue continued to work for the county outside the limelight. Deutsch, now 70 years old, retired to focus on his private legal practice.
Before his promotion, Holland had been serving as director of the county’s Human Services Support Team. As such, he oversaw that department’s budget and finance, planning, operations, quality assurance, and compliance. He had been instrumental in merging the county’s social services department into a single entity. At the time of this writing, the name of his successor as DHHS director had not been announced, but the Mountaineer reported December 13 Haywood County’s Health and Human Services Director Talmadge “Stony” Blevins was “resigning to take a similar position in Buncombe County.”
Other changes to county leadership taken since Stone took the helm have been procedural, making sure people were appointed properly and answerable to the statutorily mandated authorities. For example, Tim Flora had been appointed to serve as finance director by way of a budget amendment in 2015. Appointing him the normal way, with commissioner approval, staff said, removed the appearance he reported to the county manager and not the board. Flora was another serving in dual leadership positions. He was replaced in his role as information technology director by Kathy Brady.
Further restructuring addressed the mass exodus of 160 county employees who took advantage of an early retirement bonus offered during the recession. The county was losing top talent so fast, it had to begin offering retention bonuses. Another reason given for restructuring was the previous administration had procured commissioner approval to give the county’s lowest-paid employees a 1.5% raise, but then spent the funds so allocated on raises for some of the county’s highest-paid employees. Stone found the funds to make the adversely-affected employees whole by negotiating a $31,543 pay cut for herself, eliminating the assistant county manager positions, and consolidating departments. The organizational chart remains a work in progress, the one published in July including dashed lines, loops, and unconventional hierarchy notation.
To reduce future opportunities for wrongdoing, Stone, with commissioner approval, changed the composition of the county’s internal audit committee to seat two commissioners instead of one commissioner and a member of management. The county adopted an anti-nepotism policy and set up a hotline inviting county employees and members of the public to report suspected misdeeds to the internal auditor without fear of retribution. For greater accountability, the county’s website is being redesigned to give members of the public easier access to information. Salaries of county employees are posted online, and bonuses have been capped at $1000 and require a public celebration.
Several policies and other official documents have received commissioner approval in the last three months. Some paperwork was drafted to comply with generally-accepted practices when no written policies or charters had existed. Other changes correct unconventional or unacceptable practices. For example, at least three members of management had been receiving special benefits by way of contracts, which leadership only discovered in November.
In recent history, the county continued to receive Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards from the Government Finance Officers Association; get top grades for budget transparency from the John Locke Foundation; and rack up unqualified audits every year, the audits only checking for controls, processes, and compliance and not acts of fraud. December 12, Gould Killian CPA Group announced another clean audit for FY 2017. It is now public knowledge that people in addition to the former county manager are under investigation.