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To the people of the City of Morganton

We, the Mayor and members of the City Council, are extremely disappointed that the City’s CoMMA Director, Jim Smith, lied about his educational attainments and degrees awarded. It is never acceptable to lie.

We write this letter to state, publicly and clearly, our role and duties in regard to personnel matters.

Under the Council-Manager form of government, which began in Morganton more than a century ago and which is the standard model of local government in North Carolina, the elected City Council adopts all ordinances, sets policies, and approves the annual budget for the city. The Council directly hires only two employees: The City Manager and the City Attorney. Al other employees, including the department directors, report ultimately to the Manager. Decisions about hiring, firing, promotions and discipline are the responsibility of the Manager.

To be perfectly clear: the members of the City Council were not involved in any way in the hiring of the current CoMMA Director, and have not been involved in any way in whatever disciplinary action was taken against him. None of us, as members of the City Council, became aware of the issues with Jim Smith’s educational accomplishments until mid-March, after questions were raised in the media. It is our understanding that the City Manager has administered disciplinary action, including a suspension, in accordance with existing policies and procedures.

Any additional information about discipline is not public record. Under North Carolina law, a city employee’s personnel file is not “public record,” with certain exceptions. For instance, if an employee is suspended for disciplinary reasons, only the fact and date of such suspension is “public record.” When the law says the public is not entitled to more from the personnel file, that law also applies to the members of the City Council — we are not allowed to look into those files to any greater extent than the rest of the public.

It is important to note that the Council has adopted specified pay ranges for City job positions, and that Jim Smith was hired by the City Manager at a salary well below the median range for the position of CoMMA Director. He continues to earn well below the median. The Council understands that Jim Smith’s starting salary of $70,000 was based on job-market conditions, and was in no way related to his claimed advanced degrees.

We on the Council affirm that we are pleased with operations of CoMMA — attendance and revenues are up, and the variety of community involvement is wider than ever. It is plain to see that for the past three years under present leadership, CoMMA has been meeting the goals which Council supports. That does not excuse Jim Smith’s admitted falsehoods concerning his educational credentials.

We are looking forward and excited to continue working on all the good things happening in Morganton.

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