Apparently Jackson County commissioners are upset that the Economic Development Commission violated its own bylaws by offering Denton the job and establishing his salary and benefits package. According to County Manager Ken Westmoreland, that is not within the EDC’s authority. The EDC bylaws specify that it should make its recommendation to the board of commissioners, who would then formally hire the candidate and determine the salary and fringe benefits, said Westmoreland.
The stalemate between the county board and the EDC leaves Denton — who did not return phone calls before press time for this edition — in a state of limbo.
Both parties — the EDC and county commissioners — are remaining positive about the situation and are hopeful that an agreement can be met.
“I think we will resolve this at the next meeting,” Commissioner Will Shelton said.
EDC Chairman Rick Fulton agreed.
“No decision has been agreed upon and we are working with the board of commissioners to reach an agreement,” Fulton said.
Denton announced his resignation at Sylva’s town board meeting on Jan. 3 and it was accepted by board members.
“We respect his wishes to resign from the board and he’s done a good job for the town,” Sylva Mayor Brenda Oliver said.
Denton has worked as Sylva’s town manger for the past two years. His resignation from the town board did not come as a surprise to Aldermen Maurice Moody.
“He’s got an advancement in his career, and I suppose it is,” he said. “He has the top job that Sylva has to offer. He saw the EDC job as an advancement in his career. There was no pressure for him to resign from the town.”
With Denton’s resignation, Sylva aldermen are already beginning the search for a new town manager. The town board has plans to interview an interim town manager at its Jan. 17 meeting.
Out of the four applicants for the job interviewed by the EDC’s three-member executive committee, it was determined that Denton was the best candidate.
“Our intention as a board is to get the best-qualified candidate for the position,” Fulton said.
Denton’s vast knowledge of Jackson County government made him an ideal candidate for the job, according to Fulton. Before becoming Sylva’s town manager he served as county manager and was also a chairman of the county commission. He has worked at Western Carolina University and was also a high school teacher.
Denton’s appointment was unanimously approved by the nine-member EDC board, and he was to have a starting salary of $60,000 and a starting date of Feb. 1.
When the recommendation was presented to commissioners, however, it became apparent that there were some problems. The salary and benefits that the EDC offered do not meet county personnel policy guidelines, according to Westmoreland.
The county salary range for the position is from $38,000 to $70,000. The county sets the salary for each employee based on his or her experience, Westmoreland said.
Fulton says that the EDC was not aware that it did not have the authority to set a salary.
“Obviously there was a breakdown in communication,” Fulton said. “Based on our information it was well in our rights to set a salary.”
The salary offered to Denton would have been a raise from the $52,380 he was earning as town manager.
Fulton says that Denton’s sudden resignation from his position was not something that the EDC encouraged. He says the EDC planned on announcing the position at its next meeting, which would have given the commissioners an ample amount of time to review the position.
The Jackson County Economic Development Commission has been searching for applicants to fill the position since October. It’s been several years since the county has had an executive director for the EDC.
“We’ve been working diligently and feel like it’s a vital part for economic development,” said Fulton.
Jackson County’s economic development activities have been stagnant for almost three years since the county launched an internal investigation into financial activities of the previous EDC. Questions about the former EDC centered around who actually controlled the organization and who was in charge of oversight. That led to the re-writing of the bylaws and the current effort to hire a new executive director.