PEMBROKE — A COMtech board member says that the decision by the board to cut the executive director’s salary was a calculated move to get rid of Ken Windley and hire “their own director.”
Windley, a former Robeson County manager and COMtech’s executive director since January 2011, recently resigned his position to temporarily serve as the county manager in Gates County. He told COMtech’s board of directors when he resigned that his resignation was “all about money.” His $90,000 a year salary had been reduced to $30,000 by the board to make up for less money being appropriated to COMtech in the county’s current fiscal budget that began July 1.
Linda Metzger, a COMtech board member for several years, told The Robesonian that she believes the money could have been found to cover Windley’s $90,000 salary.
“It’s just been my feeling all along that they are firing Ken just as the county (commissioners) did in order to put their own director in charge,” said Metzger, who added that she believes when she was asked to become a member of the board it was because she is a white, female, Republican businesswoman and the board needed more diversity.
“I have no animosity against anyone,” Metzger said. “I just don’t like the system that was used to fire Ken.
“It has always been my feeling that this is not about money. They never wanted to find the money. If they really wanted to keep Ken, they could have found the money to cover his salary.
Ronnie Hunt, chairman of COMtech’s board, is currently serving as the park’s executive director. He is not receiving any compensation for filling the position, he said.
“I don’t know how she got that idea,” he said. “If there’s money that could have been used for the director’s salary I’d like to know where it is. Nobody else can find it.”
Hunt said that when Windley became executive director in 2011, there was a group of COMtech board members who pushed to get him the job.
“I tried to do what was right and follow the correct procedures,” he said. “But they wouldn’t listen to me. The position was not even advertised.”
Windley became the executive director shortly after he announced he was retiring as the county manager.
When he resigned from COMtech, he told the board that part of the problem with revenue at the industrial park is that some businesses have not been paying for services they receive, including security and maintenance. The board is currently looking toward legal action to collect back fees owed by several of the park’s tenants.
“You saw COMtech’s budget that was presented by Ken,” County Manager Ricky Harris told a reporter. “If there was money there, Ken would have found it.”
Fred McKinnon, another board member, said that there is no money in COMtech’s budget to allow for an executive director to receive $90,000 a year. He also said that he does not agree with Metzger’s contention that an individual group of COMtech board members is pushing to get a director of their own choice.
“I don’t feel that way,” he said.
Hunt said Friday that the board will meet on Wednesday to discuss options for continuing to operate the park in the absence of an executive director.
“I really don’t know what we can do right now about an executive director,” Hunt said. “We don’t have the money to hire someone.”
Hunt said that he will not suggest as an option raising fees on current tenants.
“We can’t raise the fees more,” he said. “With the economy the way it is, all we would do is have more people who can’t pay us what they owe.”
The 700-acre-plus COMtech, located just outside of Pembroke on N.C. 711, was envisioned as a technology-focused businesses, industry, educational facilities and business incubators. According to Windley, there are currently about 30 businesses located at COMtech that employ more than 1,000 people.
Whoever manages COMtech will inherit some unhappy tenants — like Hossein Mariani, the owner of Mariani’s Steak and Seafood who says COMtech is a “failure.”
Mariani said before building the restaurant five years ago, he was shown a “colorful picture” of what COMtech would become, and promised that a five-star hotel would locate nearby.
“That’s how they sold me the location,” he said. “But you don’t see any hotel around here. You don’t see any buildings being built.
“It’s what you do when you build a restaurant, you do a survey of how crowded the area is going to be to determine if you can survive or not … if it would have developed the way we were promised, it would have helped us a lot.”
Mariani said that his business differs from most others in COMtech, many of which are medical. There is also a plumbing and construction business, a landscaping outfit and an accounting firm.
“I do my business based on people coming here to eat,” he said. “With other businesses, it’s different; it’s a medical facility, people come here and work and pay for work. They don’t rely on other people around here. But me as a restaurant, I rely on foot traffic.”
Anita Allen, receptionist at Pemberton Place II, a dental clinic, says that Drs. Ronnie Lowery and Tyler Collins are doing fine in their second location. She said she can’t tell if moving to the COMtech location has had an impact on the business, but it has remained busy, mainly because the clinic is one of the few in the surrounding counties that takes emergencies.
Misty Simmons, director of Riverwood Pre-Elementary, said that the school’s daycare center in COMtech has about 40 children enrolled. She said that the daycare offers a discount for businesses in COMtech.
“We don’t have the enrollment that we should,” she said. “It just looks like we would have more children here.”