Through a byzantine series of bonuses and incentives, former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene walked away from her post netting $564,000 for the six months she served in 2017 and a total of more than $1.6 million over the past four years, according to county documents.
Greene, currently under investigation by the FBI, announced her retirement May 30, giving a 30-day notice after 20 years on the job. The county’s top brass presented the information on Oct. 5 to Xpress and other local media in response to personnel open records requests. County attorney Michael Frue would not say if the payday was connected to the federal investigation. “We can’t speak to that,” he said.
“The tragedy in this is it’s so confusing, and government should not be confusing,” said Commissioner Ellen Frost, who, along with Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Robert Pressley, was on hand for the presentation. Commission Chair Brownie Newman made remarks before the presentation, then recused himself to abide by quorum laws that would have required the county to give notice of and take minutes for the meeting.
Greene parlayed myriad payouts to amass the more than half-million-dollar payday, according to county officials and documents. Essentially, she took lump sums for both early retirement and retention incentives while cashing in on an annual leave payout and a longevity bonus. The breakdown is as follows:
- Half-year regular salary: $123,555.
- Early retirement: $123,555.
- Retention incentive: $241,790.
- Annual leave payout: $67,763.
- Longevity bonus: $7,413.
- Total: $564,076
“We just recently figured this out. We are doing our best to piece many things together,” said county Human Resources Director Lisa Eby. “I would ask for a little bit of patience. We are being as transparent and efficient as possible.” Eby was tapped as human resources director in August and did not serve in that post during Greene’s tenure.
Greene also used annual leave and other payouts in previous years to pad her salary.
- In 2014, Greene received a $54,172 annual leave payout; $13,508 longevity bonus; $2,435 in holiday pay on top of a $225,140 salary; totaling $295, 255.
- In 2015, Greene received a $116,182 annual leave payout; $13,724 longevity bonus; $5,498 in holiday pay on top of a $228,742 salary; totaling $364,146.
- In 2016, Greene received a $55,996 bonus; $86,915 annual leave payout; $14,507 longevity bonus; $27,898 in exempt comp time buyback on top of a $241,790 salary; totaling $427,106.
In all, from 2014 to June 2017, Greene netted more than $1.6 million in salary and bonuses.
The retention bonus was a program initiated by Greene aimed at slowing the deluge of upper management taking advantage of an early retirement program, another Greene initiative. Retention bonus contracts were at the discretion of Greene and had to be authorized by the commission chair, not a majority of commissioners. David Gantt was chair at the time the contract was authorized, and county staff said he signed off on it. Xpress has reached out to Gantt for comments and will update the article accordingly if he responds.
“Retention was an agreement between the county and an employee, with the employee staying in exchange for a bonus, stating they agree to stay to a certain date,” said current County Manager Mandy Stone.
“There was a [retention] agreement that was drafted, but … the county does not have a signed copy of what she was supposed to sign in her personnel folder,” Eby said of Greene’s contract, noting it was slated to run through the rest of the year, expiring Dec. 31.
Is any or all of the bonus subject to clawback measures or litigation? County staff says it’s looking into that. “Commissioners raised those questions as we have pulled this data. We are exploring what those legal options might be,” Stone told Xpress.
Xpress also asked if outside legal counsel was being sought, and Stone said at this point the county was relying on its human resources and county attorneys. “They will give the first review of the facts. We are being accurate when we say we were pulling this data up until you got here today. We’re still trying to grasp all the changes that occurred along the way,” explained Stone.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Finance Director Tim Flora thinks recouping the payout might be a lost cause. “There are different people trying to figure out how that works legally, and so some of us have different opinions,” he said. “Until legal comes and says this was paid out incorrectly, I don’t think there really is an option for us to claw it back. … A clear reading of [the contract] shows what she got was everything she was entitled to get,” he said.
Greene also doled out a retention bonus to her sister, Irene Wolfe, also a county employee, to the tune of $104,000 over two years.
Greene’s son, Michael Greene, who was also employed by the county, did not receive a retention bonus. He did get a discretionary raise of $1,706 in 2016. That year, commissioners directed Wanda Greene to give 1.5 percent pay bumps to lower-paid employees. Wanda Greene also gave herself a $3,573 increase as part of that directive from commissioners.
Michael Greene resigned from his post with the county the day the FBI investigation was confirmed in August. Wanda Greene’s sister is still employed by the county.
Moving forward, Stone said she is committed to increasing transparency and strengthening firewalls to county manager autonomy. Earlier this week, commissioners approved measures that limit bonuses to $1,000 with the caveat they must be approved by the board. Contracts such as the retention incentives can no longer be approved by just the commission chair; they must receive majority approval from the commissioners.
In regard to the ongoing FBI investigation into Wanda Greene, Xpress received word on Oct. 5 from Lia Bantavani with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that there is no new information.
This year, Xpress has covered a number of issues concerning the county’s pay and benefits, closed-door budget negotiations, commissioners’ disappointment of Greene’s discretion of the 1.5 percent pay increases, and more. You can catch up on those stories and developments around Greene’s departure and investigation below.
- “Let’s get personnel: How Buncombe County employee salaries compare to state averages.”
- “Phoning it in: Commissioners negotiate tax rate in private.”
- “Raising Questions: Past pay increases present puzzles.“
- “Records requests shed light on city, county travel reimbursements.”
- “County Manager Greene offers letter of resignation.”
- “FBI can ‘neither confirm nor deny’ probe of former County Manager Greene.”
- “Feds probing former Buncombe County Manager Greene.”