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CALABASH—Town commissioners have voted to fire town administrator Donna Prince “without cause.” They will buy out the remainder of her contract, which was to expire in November.
The unanimous vote came Feb. 20 following a specially called, closed meeting attended by the town’s five commissioners, Mayor Anthony Clemmons and attorney Mark Lewis.
Commissioner Cecelia Herman made a motion to terminate Prince without cause and with pay, in accordance with her employment agreement with the town, effective immediately. Commissioner Emily DiStasio seconded the motion.
Commissioners had no comment during the discussion period that followed.
“Donna, we wish you well,” commissioner Forrest King said after the vote, starting to say more when Prince interrupted, holding up one hand in the town hall meeting room.
“Please,” she said. “You know I’ll do well.”
“Let me say as mayor, to the board and to Donna, that the governing body of Calabash has spoken and felt it was their duty to call for a change,” Clemmons said. “In all fairness, the board explored a number of possible options, and in the end chose the one which they best felt to be best for all concerned.
“As mayor, I stand by the board’s decision in the new direction which the board wished to go, and it was with a deep sadness of heart that this decision had to come about,” Clemmons said.
Speaking to Prince, he added, “I wish you and your family well, and that’s from our hearts.”
Minutes later, prior to leaving her office at town hall, Prince said the matter had to do with “misconduct in office” on the part of a town commissioner, pointing out that, just the day before, commissioners also called a closed session in which personnel and “code of ethics” were discussed.
Clemmons said Thursday he had no comment regarding what Prince had to say after she was terminated.
“If she made that comment, she made it as a private citizen at that time, because the termination is effective immediately,” he said. “So I cannot comment on a private citizen’s comment. They’re entitled to their opinion.”
On Friday, Prince issued an e-mailed statement to the press:
“I knew I was taking a risk when I addressed the board regarding the abuse of employees by two individual commissioners, namely Herman and DiStasio.”
Prince claimed DiStasio violated a state statute regarding confidentiality of employees’ personnel files.
“But the risk was mine to take and because of staff complaints and this ongoing concern, I had no other choice,” Prince wrote.
She wrote that a majority of town staff recently met with Clemmons and King, who is mayor pro tem, “to express their individual concerns regarding these matters.”
Prince, 47, had been with the town of Calabash since October 2003 and was appointed administrator in November 2005. Prior to that, she worked for seven years as administrative assistant for the now defunct South Brunswick Water and Sewer Authority, two years as a receptionist with the town of Sunset Beach and 14 years with the county as a land records technician and register of deeds.
She said she has worked in local government for 27 years, garnering awards and receiving a variety of training.
“I know a little bit about what I’m doing,” said Prince, who grew up in Brunswick County.
Prince, who said her salary with the town was $45,000 annually, estimated the buyout on her contract is going to cost the town around $35,000.
King, who serves as finance officer for the town, estimated the amount would be in the “low $30s” after benefits and vacation are figured in, along with Prince’s pay for the next nine months.
Commissioners scheduled a special meeting last Friday to appoint an interim town clerk for the town.
In the meantime, commissioners were pitching in and assisting with overseeing operations at town hall.
A meeting to discuss sewer with the county was scheduled last Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve been so busy, I haven’t thought about anything else, except to say I’m still feeling a little sad that things didn’t work out for everybody,” Clemmons said from town hall last week about Prince’s firing.
“Anytime you have a loss, there’s a certain amount of sadness. I still feel that other than that, we’ve just been getting things in order.”
Clemmons added, “I think I put it very succinctly when I stated, without exception, our total board felt that the action they took was in the best interest of the town and our town administrator.”
Commissioners Herman, DiStasio, King, Bill Dixon and John Melahn had no additional comment.
A reporter with The Brunswick Beacon has questioned commissioners about what was discussed at its closed meetings, arguing personnel policy and establishing a “code of ethics” are not items that can legally be discussed in a closed government meeting, according to the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.
Following the first closed session Feb. 19, Clemmons announced the only action taken was a consensus of the board that he and two commissioners would begin meeting with town employees “to discuss concerns and how we can make our team better.”
“We’re also going to adopt a code of ethics for the board,” he said.