Take the money and run: Greene nets $500K payday over 6 months

GREENE BACKS: Former County Manager Wanda Greene hauled in more than $500,000 for six months of work in 2017 before retiring on June 30. In the past four years, she netted more than $1.6 million through her salary and a series of bonuses and incentives.
GREENE BACKS: Former County Manager Wanda Greene hauled in more than $500,000 for six months of work in 2017 before retiring on June 30. In the past four years, she netted more than $1.6 million through her salary and a series of bonuses and incentives. Xpress stock photo

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.

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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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18 thoughts on “Take the money and run: Greene nets $500K payday over 6 months

  1. The Real World

    Yea boy, Govt pays, doesn’t it? (double entendre and all) Do they still call it “public service” when someone works for the Govt? Perhaps it’s time for a terminology update. How about: “public fleecing”? Yet the ‘Govt as God’ worshippers only want more of it. Sigh…..I suppose that’s how religion works.

    Poor suckers in the private sector don’t have it so good……

    • luther blissett

      “Poor suckers in the private sector don’t have it so good……”

      You definitely have limited experience of the private sector.

      In other news, the council-manager model creates power imbalances.

      • The Real World

        And you definitely win today’s prize for magical thinking.

        Only more than 3 decades in the private sector, “luther”. I stand by my statement.

        • luther blissett

          So you’ve never worked for a “family business” where somebody gets paid for doing not much and it turns out to be the boss’s son or nephew? Lucky you.

  2. Deplorable Infidel

    Ellen Frost, the budget chairman should be ashamed to show her face in Buncombe Co along with Wanda Greene and her whole family!

    Ellen Frost should RESIGN right now…actually all of them should…we have elected CRIMINALS running Buncombe County.

  3. CDG

    Wonder if Mandy Stone would be willing to disclose her payouts over the past year? Maybe her “hatchet man” Lisa Eby would too. And for David Gantt, might want to retain his own counsel when talking with the feds.

    • IceNine

      Mandy Stone’s actual compensation was published in the citizen times:
      2014: $225,311
      2015: $232,964
      2016: $351,586
      2017: $307,943

      This is criminal….get rid of all of them.

      • Bright

        It’s a national trend…look at the so- called US Government. Vermin is hella prolific.

      • C Smith

        Wow. She makes about double what the average governor makes. Also a lot more than US senators. What’s wrong with this picture (besides my taxes having to support this)?

  4. Don

    This is the face (the unvarnished face…. and it’s not pretty) of institutionalized systemic corruption. So how long are the good folks of Asheville and Buncombe County going to put up with this now that its been exposed????

    • The Real World

      I predict it will have limited impact on the views of most local voters. Govt is their savior and they’ll have excuses galore for how, “there are always a few bad apples” or “a couple of exceptions don’t define the group”, etc. etc.

      I think I’ve heard all of them the last couple decades. It’s like you put a quarter in their mouth and out pops one of the predictable excuses for why fraud, corruption, theft, vote-rigging, influence peddling, nepotism (that angle plays into this story. Wait, there’s more to come) is not a big deal. Either Democrat voters are also willfully corrupt by not insisting these pig-pens get cleaned up before sending more pigs into them OR they are deeply clueless by choice…and that is equally as scary.

      P.S. Before some overly-emotional type knee-jerks responds that Democrats aren’t the only corrupt politicians, I say, “no kidding. Politics is an equal opportunity environment and there are morally bankrupt players across all ideologies.”

      Another P.S. I’m going to reasonably guess that Wanda Greene is the tip of the iceberg; that’s how these things tend to work.

      • Lulz

        LOL, Newman became wealthy WHILE in office. If that isn’t a story unto itself, I don’t know what is.

        • luther blissett

          If you have evidence as opposed to repetitive scuttlebutt, then I’m sure the FBI would like to hear it.

          I suppose one answer to this is to elect people who don’t have extended families, and have city and county management led by people who just arrived in town on their own. We’ve learned about Skyland FD this year, and now the county.

          The council-manager model is dumb.

          • Lulz

            LOL no worries. Leftist have been free from scrutiny for decades now. Yet that same kid glove treatment also allows them to feel free to act out. So do you think it was a government crony who pushed the feds onto Wanda Greed or someone else? My guess is that someone somewhere has the time and resources to take a hard look at what’s happening. And Newman is on the list of people who for years have been in government and also used that role to funnel money into their businesses. Or the businesses of close friends or family. Stay tuned.

          • luther blissett

            So you have evidence beyond your repetitive insinuations, and have provided it to the FBI?

    • Lucy Edwards

      Time to clean house! Will the folks remember come election time?

  5. Tsalagisister

    The utter blindness of the locals to the ruling class crime in this town ,make Machiavelli look like Mr Rogers.
    They, the Wanda Greene types remind me daily that crooked mountain roads often resemble those that built them.
    They make a profit off stealing…always have..always will.
    Our Lakota cousins call them ,” washitu”
    Thank you FBI.
    Keep digging
    I’m so glad there are honest folks in law enforcement.

  6. lgh

    I have a hard time with all of this money changing hands so easily among this small group of individuals without it raising a red flag with someone in the county government. No one person should have the authority to ok payouts of these proportions, we as taxpayers deserve better from our government.

    I also have a problem with an elected official such as the Sheriff getting performance bonuses, as he is already one of the highest paid Sheriffs in the State. What performance measures did he meet that warranted that kind of money.

    Lastly the County should take any and all means to recoup any unpaid money promised to these individuals and rewrite the procedures that make large sum payments or bonuses subject to review prior to payment.

    Shameful behavior by any standards.

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