The timing of the unanimous decision by the Pembroke Town Council to give Town Manager Oryan Lowry a three-year contract, coming as it does a few months before municipal elections, seems curious. Or perhaps the timing betrays the current council’s concerns.
That opinion is offered without any judgment on Lowry, whose abilities we don’t question.
Municipal elections are in November, and we know there will be at least one new member of the council as voters will replace the late Robert Williamson, whose seat has remained vacant since his death 18 months ago. It’s clear why the three members of the council have not replaced Williamson, because doing so would dilute their voting power on the board.
Beginning Dec. 1, Pembroke will again be served by four council members and a mayor, Milton Hunt, whose seat is not up for re-election. Hunt, who votes to break a 2-2 tie on the council, has called the contract “unnecessary,” but also seems satisfied with Lowry’s job performance.
The town manager serves at the pleasure of town boards, and should a new board emerge in Pembroke, the new council might want to name its own manager, which could prove costly to taxpayers who would be saddled with the cost of buying out Lowry’s contract.
We also know that the town is facing complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that could become problematical.
The Robesonian last week reported Lowry’s contract, finding it newsworthy because no other municipal manager in Robeson County enjoys anything similar.
That prompted an email by Councilman Allen Dial, which was a basis for a story in Tuesday’s newspaper.
Dial wrote in part: “… A contract ensures full understanding of what is required and what is expected in the performance of duties. Secondly, a contract binds an employee to a certain level of loyalty for an organization or political unit for support and training completed at the expense of the citizens in Pembroke. In the past, such support and training had been provided for a former assistant town manager who chose to leave for other employment after having been financially supported for professional growth with town funds after only two years on the job. Consequently, it is an organization strategy available to governmental units and boards to require collaboration and partnerships for all professionals in a manner that will benefit and value the recruitment and retention of qualified personnel.”
If those things are true now, they were as well for the 35 years McDuffie Cummings served the town as its manager without a contract, including 15 years with Dial on the council. The 41-year-old Lowry has told this newspaper that he wants to be town manager of Pembroke for all his career, so he doesn’t appear to a flight risk.
All the risk in the contract, it seems to us, is on the side of Pembroke. Rather, its taxpayers.