LUMBERTON — Ricky Harris, Robeson County’s interim manager for about a year and a half, can remove “interim” from his job title.
After meeting in closed session Monday night for about 90 minutes to discuss personnel and possible litigation, the commissioners reconvened their regular public meeting and voted unanimously to hire Harris, who has served as interim manager since Ken Windley retired in November 2010.
Commissioner Hubert Sealey was not at Monday’s meeting.
Harris, 54, is a Maxton native and graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Before becoming an assistant county manager in September 2006, he served as director of the county Elections Board. Before becoming a county employee, he held management positions in private business.
“I’m very thankful to the board,” Harris said after the meeting. “The board and county employees are a fantastic group of people to work with.”
Harris said that as manager he intends to continue working with all department heads to move the county forward. He specifically cited his desire to increase power-generation operations at the county landfill in St. Pauls and to move forward the county’s wellness program.
Advertisement for the manager’s position began last July, according to County Attorney Hal Kinlaw. Kinlaw said that 18 applications, covering the “spectrum” of race, gender and experience, were received for the job.
Each commissioner individually ranked on a point system each applicant. According to Kinlaw, the commissioners wanted to keep the names of candidates from circulating to prevent reprisals from their current employers.
Kinlaw said that eight applicants were selected from the original 18, and then three, including Harris, were interviewed by the board. Each candidate was asked the same questions, Kinlaw said, with each commissioner then allowed to ask an “off- the-wall” question that did not count toward the candidate’s total ranking but could be used in the board’s final decision.
Kinlaw said the hiring process took so long because commissioners have had so many other things to deal with in the past year.
“There were just so many other pending issues,” he said.
During that time, Harris earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The county, however, did not put as a requirement for the job that an applicant possess a master’s degree.
Also Monday, after no one came forward to speak during a public hearing, the commissioners approved a $141.8 million county budget for fiscal 2012-13. The budget calls for the current property tax rate to remain at 77 cents per $100 of property value; includes no employee layoffs; creates the position of “compliance, safety, loss prevention and risk management officer; and reinstates the county’s step plan for employee raises, a plan that has not been used for three years.
Before approving the budget, the board included an extra $40,000 for Robeson Community College’s capital fund to be used for roof repairs. The $40,000 is in addition to the $300,000 allocation for roofing repairs and $2 million for operating and maintenance expenses the county already included in its budget proposal.
It took two votes to get all of the commissioners present at Monday’s meeting to vote in favor of the proposed budget.
On the first vote, Commissioner David Edge opposed the budget, saying the county should increase RCC’s allocation for operating and maintenance expenses to $2.3 million, the amount the college has requested. After gaining no support from other commissioners, Edge voted to approve the budget.
In other business, several Maxton town officials and residents asked the board to accept the old Maxton High School gym as surplus from the local school district and then hand it over to Maxton to be used as a community center. The board has declined to accept the old building and has authorized the school district to sell it or lease it to whomever it pleases.
Those wanting the building turned over to the town contend that over the past 10 years both school officials and county commissioners have verbally committed to giving the town the old gym after the new Townsend Middle School gym was constructed.
The town would use the gym to provide youth-related activities.
Kinlaw said that it is not the policy of board members to respond to the public during their meeting, but that the issue will “definitely be taken under advisement.”
— Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.