Harnett County fires manager in close vote

Dec. 05, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

The Harnett County Board of Commissioners wasted no time firing County Manager Scott Sauer once a new Republican majority was established, doing so shortly after swearing in two new Republican members on Monday.

The vote was 3-2, largely along partisan lines.

Sauer, who was hired away from Sampson County in 2009, didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday. His temporary replacement, Interim County Manager Joseph Jeffries, wasn't available on Tuesday, according to office staff.

"I just felt they did him an injustice because he's done a good job at county," Beatrice Hill, who cast a losing vote in favor of keeping Sauer, said Tuesday. "He's been fair in the decisions he's made, and the new, incoming board, one of the members knew nothing about Scott but made the decision to fire him and just went along with the people who were pushing him."

Hill, the lone Democrat on the board, said she considered the vote "revenge" for a lawsuit involving the county's Public Utilities Department. Although she wouldn't say more, the county did sue Republican commissioner Gary House last spring, alleging that he orchestrated the theft of private documents from the county by a former utilities employee who was fired in 2011.

That employee has admitted to taking the documents, but House, according to a Fayetteville Observer story from last May, said there is more to the story than has been revealed. On Monday, he was voted vice chairman of the board — taking the position Hill had held for the past decade and a half — but didn't respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Sauer did elicit some controversy in 2011 when he accepted a raise included in the same budget that also required all county workers to take one day of furlough per month. At the time, he reportedly said he had declined a raise in 2010 but did feel that accepting the 2011 raise of 5 percent was appropriate because it was comparable to raises other employees had received.

The vote to fire Sauer didn't go entirely smoothly for the GOP bloc, though, with the newly elected Joe Miller breaking rank with his fellow Republicans in order to vote against dismissing Sauer.

"Well to be honest with you, I've known the man a month," Miller said Tuesday. "I shook his hand three or four times, and they wanted me to vote to fire the man. I said, 'Give me a reason; give me proof. I don't go on he said, she said. ... He may have done wrong, he might not have done wrong, but you can't ask me to make a decision on a man's life based on he said, she said."

The other new commissioner, Gordon Springle, said he had no problem voting against Sauer on his first day on the job because he saw the recent election as a wider referendum on what Harnett County voters want.

"I just think that at this juncture, you got a new board looking at a new direction as far as the county's concerned, and this was what this was all about," he said, adding that he couldn't go into any specifics about Sauer's performance due to personnel rules.

According to John Rankins, the Harnett County Human Resources and Risk Management director, the county will be accepting applications for county manager for the next two weeks or so.

Also at Monday's meeting, Republican Jim Burgin was chosen as chairman, replacing longtime Republican board member Tim McNeill, who was chairman during Sauer's tenure as county manager. Neither he nor Burgin responded to requests for comment.

McNeill and Democrat Dan Andrews, who served for years before being defeated by Springle in November, were also both honored and presented with the Order of the Longleaf Pine — North Carolina's highest civilian award — at the meeting.