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Chadbourn town manager resigns after 10 months

Posted on: 02.13.2018 at 07:00 a.m.

The Chadbourn Town Council Friday accepted town manager James “Trey” Burke’s resignation, effective Wednesday, Feb. 7, and agreed to pay him three months salary as a “temporary consulting manager.” The vote in a special called meeting was 3-0, with two council members absent.

Burke, 29, had been on the job for only 10 months. He was not present at Friday’s meeting. His letter of resignation gave no reasons for his departure and he did not return calls seeking comment on why he is leaving. He began work in Chadbourn on May 5, 2017.

Friday’s eight-minute meeting was in sharp contrast to a four-hour closed session Tuesday in which Burke’s status apparently was discussed and during which raised voices could be heard from behind closed doors. No announcements were made saying that the Tuesday closed session was about the town manager, but Burke did go into and out of that session several times.

Mayor Phillip Britt presided over Friday’s short meeting, attended at first only by Councilmen Donald Ray Bass, David Worley and Danny Clewis, all of whom voted to accept Burke’s resignation and to ask Town Clerk Pat Garrell to serve as interim town manager (a role she has filled before and has said in the past she wasn’t thrilled to take on).

Councilman James Green did not attend the meeting and Councilwoman Colene Kelly arrived late, after the votes to accept Burke’s resignation and to ask Garrell to serve as interim manager already had been taken. However, Kelly did arrive in time to vote, without saying why, against a motion to begin advertising immediately for applications for a permanent manager. Bass, Worley and Clewis voted to proceed with ads. The mayor does not vote except in cases of a tie.

Burke did not respond to voicemail and text messages left over the weekend asking that he call us to discuss the reasons for his resignation and what his plans for the future might be.

After the meeting, Britt denied rumors that Burke had been asked to choose between resigning and being terminated. Worley, who was named mayor pro tem in December after being re-elected to a second council term in November, had said during his re-election campaign that Burke had not followed some council policies.

Worley would not comment after Burke’s resignation except to say, “He is a young man and I wish him well. I am sure he will continue his career in governmental service elsewhere and be a success.”

Britt said that Burke leaves Chadbourn “in good standing” and the mayor said he will write positive letters of recommendation for Burke. Town Attorney Harold G. “Butch” Pope also said he would highly recommend Burke.

Burke’s letter of resignation, although addressed to Britt and council members, was delivered via email to Pope. The short letter was dated Thursday, Feb. 8, and effective Wednesday. The brief letter gave no reasons for his decision and said, “I have tendered my resignation and agreed to be assigned as a Temporary Consulting Manager for a period of 90 days starting on February 7, 2018. It is my understanding that I am leaving the Town in good standing, will be paid my salary for that 90-day period, in addition to all compensatory and vacation time accrued over that time. It has been a pleasure to serve the citizens of Chadbourn, and to work with a cast of truly phenomenal coworkers.”

Burke’s annual salary was $50,000, which means that he will be paid $12,500 for his 90 days of consulting work. Britt said Friday that Burke will not be coming into the town hall on a regular schedule but will be available to assist on an as-needed basis.

Pope said, “The only detail involved in his resignation is that he will stay on and be available as a consultant for up to 90 days. He will be paid. He wasn’t under contract, so it’s not like this is a severance package. We do need him during the transition. He won’t have a car or all his benefits, although I think he had a week of vacation pay coming that he negotiated for.”

Burke has commuted from New Hanover County during most of his tenure as Chadbourn town manager; however, he reportedly moved to Chadbourn during the past few weeks. He came to Chadbourn from the Cape Fear Council of Governments, where he provided planning and zoning services for numerous municipalities, including code enforcement, reviewing applications and site plans and overseeing special use permits for mines, auto repair shops and a cement plant, rezoning requests for multi-family developments and a planned unit development.

At the COG, he was involved in various Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) land use plans, water and sewer asset management plans, departmental budgets and pay classification plans. He oversaw a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, a Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance grant for roadway and building repairs and two Surface Transportation Program direct attributable sidewalk projects. He staffed various governmental board meetings. He also took part in involved in oversight of various interns and temporary employees helped update the agency’s web site. As he described it after he was hired by Chadbourn, much of his work at the COG involved planning and consulting.

The departing town manager is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where he received both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in public policy and administration. He is a native of Southport in Brunswick County. In addition to his COG employment, he had internships as a management intern in his home town of Southport and in Mount Holly.

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