Newman pushing for changes amid ‘eroding public trust’

Commission Chair Brownie Newman is trying to move forward with more changes to the county's personnel ordinance, but said he doesn't have support from a majority of commissioners.
Commission Chair Brownie Newman is trying to move forward with more changes to the county's personnel ordinance, but said he doesn't have support from a majority of commissioners.

ASHEVILLE N.C.— Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman is asking fellow commissioners to make additional changes to the county’s personnel ordinance. In the wake of the revelation that former County Manager Wanda Greene netted more than $1.6 million over the past four years, Newman wants to put a moratorium on cost-of-living adjustments for department heads and senior leadership, among other proposals.

However, Newman says he is getting pushback and does not have a majority of commissioners in his corner. “I really don’t know. I talked to everybody last week and they seemed to be on board,” says Newman, adding that he’s open to working out the details with other members of the board.

“I thought it was coming forward in unanimous context, but I cannot speak for the other commissioners. At this point, several are objecting to it being discussed,” says Newman.

In the letter, Newman cites “eroding public trust” as a reason to take these steps. When asked what that means, Newman tells Xpress he thinks people are “angry and concerned,” noting he’s received many calls and emails expressing disappointment concerning bonuses and raises doled out by Greene.

Early this year, Xpress looked at how Greene, who is currently under investigation by the FBI, distributed 1.5 percent raises that commissioners had specified should go to the county’s lowest-paid employees. Only 16 percent of that money went to lower-wage workers, with six-figure earners getting 28 percent of the total.

Other aspects of Newman’s proposal include:

  • “Commission direction to our county manager to create a plan to reduce the overall cost to taxpayers for compensation of the senior management team through restructuring, adjustments to salary, attrition or other approaches. These adjustments should be sufficient to recover the salary bonuses received by members of senior management.
  • “Timely completion of a county employee compensation study for higher- and lower-paid county employees. The manager is instructed to update the commission on the status of the salary study within 90 days. The former manager was instructed to direct the 1.5 percent to the lowest paid employees last year. It is the intent of this board that the plan include consideration of retroactive adjustments to 1.5 percent increases for lower paid employees.
  • “The commission has changed the personnel ordinance to remove the discretion of the county manager to award bonuses or incentives except performance bonuses not to exceed $1,000 that will be publicly awarded and recognized.
  • “Effective July 1, 2017 the commission directed the county manager to eliminate all supplemental and dual role pay supplements.
  • “The commission has directed the county manager to ensure salaries are posted and accessible to the public.
  • “The commission will annually review the salaries and performance of all positions that report directly to them and publicly report any contractual changes in regard to these positions.”

Newman also wants commissioners’ salaries lowered to better reflect the county’s population. Buncombe County is the state’s sixth largest, but its pay for commissioners is the fourth highest, according to Newman, who wants a 25 percent reduction in his salary and a 17 percent for the rest of the commission. “I’m simply trying to bring Buncombe County in line with where we should be,” he says.

However, while Newman says he had hoped discussion on his proposals would take place during the commissioners’ official meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, he says he is willing to put the proposals on the board’s next formal agenda in November. As chair, Newman can put any issue on the agenda as long as he proposes it a week before the meeting. In this case, he says he submitted the proposal on time, but then made changes based on feedback from staff and other commissioners. At that point, he says, other commissioners considered it a new proposal and therefore not eligible for the Oct. 17 agenda.

“I don’t want to speak for other commissioners, but I can tell you who objects,” he says, noting that only Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara supports the proposal as-is.

“When I talked to everyone, they said it was good. Frankly, people change their minds,” laments Newman.

“All commissioners have expressed concerns about this. The question is what can we do to address it going forward. People want to see us do whatever we can. This is in our control,” says Newman.

However, Commissioner Mike Fryar has another take on the additional personnel ordinance change proposals. “We have a staff working on that stuff and they are doing a great job. It’s not the commissioners’ place to step in,” he tells Xpress. “When you give somebody a job, it’s their job. If you want to make suggestions, fine, but you don’t bring them to an agenda.”

Commissioner Ellen Frost says she has not seen the proposed changes and wants more time to process the information. “I don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction,” she explains. “It’s important that we act responsibly. Wanda Greene did something wrong, not the employees.”

Fryar adds that this is a process that needs room to breathe. “It’s a new day in Buncombe County. Is it going to be easy? No. Will it take awhile? Yes. [County staff] has to get across hurdles,” he said, adding that after staff presents its recommendations, he will add his suggestions. Until then he wants employees doing the heavy lifting.

“It’s not for [Commission Chair Newman] to make that decision. There’s seven of us,” Fryar says.

You can see Newman’s entire proposal here.

Earlier this year, Xpress took an in-depth look at county salaries and benefits and how they match up with other counties across the Tar Heel State. (See “Let’s get personnel: How Buncombe County employee salaries compare to state averages“)

Commissioners will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 5 p.m.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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21 thoughts on “Newman pushing for changes amid ‘eroding public trust’

  1. C Smith

    Too little too late. Why make a big show of closing the barn door now that the horses are all out? No faith whatsoever in the majority of the commissioners and the county manager, assistant manager and all the other high paid, “rentention bonused and retirement bonused” cronies to do the right thing when people AREN’T looking.

    • luther blissett

      What’s the alternative? Fire all the county management and have the jobs done by volunteers? When Bobby Medford finally got caught, did you want the sheriff’s department disbanded and fumigated to make sure none of the stench hung around?

      The fundamental problem with the council-manager model for both city and county is that it expects seven part-time elected officials to trust what the full-time management is doing, or have the capacity and time to work out something’s not right.

  2. Jason

    A blatantly corrupt bought and paid for US political system, the US SUPREME COURT allowing an unlimited campaign finance Oligarchy, gerrymandering, voter suppression, a Presidential candidate winning 3 million more votes and still loses presidency????
    What eroding public trust are you talking about?

  3. Don

    The “retention incentive bonuses” and “performance bonds” for the most senior administrative positions are the most egregious and need to be done away with…. though you can bet your bottom tax-payer dollar they will not disappear easily or anytime soon.

    • Lulz

      What’s more hilarious is this mouthpiece is coming out trying to save his own skin while pushing higher taxes. The whole stinking farce needs to be taken apart. Newman is as corrupt as Greene. This guy pushed public funds towards FLS for years. And had overt conflicts of interests that were covered up by both the corrupt media and cronies. That anyone supports higher taxes with no accountability, no questioning, an no idea of where it’s going just because “progressives” are in control is an idiot. All the while vilifying those who oppose the taxes as anti-poor. Totally corrupt and why people have lost faith. And why you’re seeing election participation dwindle. There’s no point in voting if nothing ever changes except the names.

      • bsummers

        This guy pushed public funds towards FLS for years.

        You’ve made this charge before, but I for one have never seen the evidence behind it. If you have some, please post it here.

        • Keith Thomson

          The problem with trial by anonymous social media is no evidence is necessary for conviction. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Sad. Believe me.

      • mcates

        “This guy pushed public funds towards FLS for years. And had overt conflicts of interests that were covered up by both the corrupt media and cronies. ”

        Yes, it’s well established. The only people who would deny it are people still trying tor run cover for Newman.

        Just to start (and in no particular order)… after his customer purchased from FLS, Newman got that customer special exceptions from the Asheville City Council.

        Then there’s that time Newman simultaneously used his position as a lobbyist and elected official to change state law which would benefit his company, FLS.

        Then there are NC Legislators that were confused if Newman was in their office representing the City of Asheville or First Light Solar.

        Then there is the use of all the shell companies that were formed to isolate and protect his company. As in the case with Haywood College, which eventually had to sue FLS Solar 20

        Then there was the failed Enka project, which was enabled due to previous changes in law, due to his using his elected position and his lobbying efforts.

        Then there was the time Newman used his position on the AARRC (the RADTIP committee) to save FLS.

        And then there’s the minor detail of the collaboration between New Belgium, Vision Ridge Partners and wait for it… FLS Energy.

        I could go on, but for those who don’t want to see, they won’t. Has Newman broken the law? Not necessarily. Has Newman demonstrated a significant lack of ethics. Absolutely. Essentially, his goal is the same as Wanda Greene’s… use the system for personal gain.

        You don’t get to vote tax dollars to the trough, then be the one who feeds on them. Well, some can, but it’s not ethical.

        • bsummers

          I guess when I said ‘evidence’, I meant a news article, or some other verifiable account. Just saying “oh, and then there was that time…” isn’t actual evidence.

  4. IceNine

    Sorry Ms. Frost, Wanda Greene isn’t the only one who did something wrong. The senior management employees who took $150k+ bonuses (including current county manager Mandy Stone) knew it was wrong. Especially Van Duncan, who is an elected official. On what planet would he deserve a ‘retention bonus’ just to serve out the 4 year term he was elected to?

    • Lulz

      Exactly. How can you pay to retain someone that is elected? LOL, the county government is corrupt. Heads need to roll. And Newman is himself a crook. I have zero faith in them to do the right thing.

      Time for a recall.

    • Tax Me Some More

      So Fryer and Frost are suggesting that the very same people who willingly accepted the outrageous retention bonuses should be put in charge of solving this issue???? That seems like a terrific idea! The less oversight and management from the commissioners, the better. It obviously worked out really well under Ms. Greene’s tenure. Sounds like the FBI should expand their investigation… Your tax dollars at work, folks.

    • Tax Me Some More

      You’re forgetting that the bonus system was devised and paid out under the “supervision” of the previous chairman. Maybe Newman’s no saint, but your posts are all bark no bite. Lulz indeed!

      • Lulz

        LOL, and yet Greed was in office during his tenure as chairman and also retired during that time. As posted below, he was fully aware of it and without a doubt is only looking to save his own skin.

  5. Deplorable Infidel

    Sorry Ellen Frost and county commissioners, YOU PEOPLE have NOT done your jobs and all but Fryar and Pressley should RESIGN now. David Gantt is largely complicit here too. ALL evil democrackkks…they think they must always CONTROL with EVIL. Wanda Greed is NOT the only criminal here.

    ‘retention bonus’ ….whoever heard of such a scam on the taxpayers ??? evil democrackkks who control you…

  6. Angel Chandler

    As long as the public didn’t know this was happening Newman was fine with it. It’s only now that it has been brought to light that it is a problem. Newman clearly lacks integrity and is only trying to save his and his Party’s reputation. This isn’t about doing the right thing. It’s about damage control.

  7. BMacAVL

    “I have absolutely no idea what my generation did to enrich our democracy. We dropped the ball. We entered a period of complacency and closed our eyes to the public corruption of our democracy.” – Wynton Marsalis

  8. anthony ponder

    County Manager Wanda Greene (From blog: humormeaep)

    County Manager Wanda Greene should get a medal from Buncombe County taxpayers. She deserves the medal for showing us the face of socialism.

    You see, under socialism the top government officials are financially rewarded. They get, say, a thirty percent salary increase from time to time while the peon employees get a measly three percent pay increase. Pretty nifty isn’t it?

    Isn’t one party rule wonderful under socialism? With one party rule it’s pretty easy to pull the wool over the eyes a few elected yes-men. They say nothing when Ms. Greene’s family members become highly paid county employees. Evidently, these commissioners love family values.

    Along the way there are hefty property tax increases. Under socialism these increases keep the masses in poverty and sharing the misery. It also solidifies the ruling class’ power grip. That’s socialism at its rip-roaring best.

    So, we Buncombe County taxpayers should be proud of Ms. Greene. She gets herself a $100,000 pay increase each year for the past three years and works half a year for a half million smackers. This is a bird’s eye view of socialism. Talk about giving back!

    Ms. Greene is now retired. I suggest building her a statue. Why not make her one in the middle of the county? What better place for a monument than Pack Square. Place her likeness atop Vance monument. Rename it The Greene Way.

    Better still, have Antifa tear down Vance Monument. Replace it with a statue of Wanda riding on the backs of county commissions. Wouldn’t that be a treat for Brownie, David, and the patsies? After all, they fawned for Wanda.

    Since retirement, Ms. Greene should get a teaching job. In higher education she could teach a Socialism course. They could work her into their curriculum courses that include: Feminine Studies, White Privilege, Social Justice, Government is God, Modern Slavery, Manspreading, America Sucks, and The Glories of Modern Islam.

    Ms. Green could even write a few books. I can envision titles like, Using Government for Fun and Profit, My Government Family, How I Made Government Work for Me, and The Glories of a One Party System.

    There are movies to make about Ms. Greene’s exploits. What about titles like, The adventures of Wanda Woman, Going Greene with Taxpayer Money, How the Government Worked for Me, and How I was Framed by the Feds? Of course, these movies wouldn’t pay her as well as being county manager. But, once again, she’d be giving back.

    So, give Ms. Greene a medal. She’s given us a glimpse of socialism. Buncombe County taxpayers should forever be indebted to her.

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