Sylva rescinds resignation vote, re-hires Denton

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Sylva’s search for a new town manager ended Jan. 17 after Town Manager Jay Denton asked the board for his job back.

Denton, 51, resigned from his two-year position as town manager on Jan. 3 to become executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Commission. Denton was offered EDC job at the end of December and gave a four-week notice.

However, Denton’s plan to become the county’s new EDC director— a position that has been open for four years— was short-lived. Jackson County commissioners failed to appoint him to the post at their Jan. 7 meeting.

Commissioners claimed the EDC overstepped its authority by offering Denton a starting salary of $60,000 and a benefits package. According to EDC bylaws, which were just approved by county officials and the municipalities in April 2007, the commissioners would hire the EDC executive director and set the salary. The county was given this power because it would be funding the executive director’s salary.

However, a breakdown in communication between the EDC and commissioners had EDC members believing they had the responsibility of hiring and setting a salary. Both parties seemed hopeful that a resolution to this fiasco could be rectified by the end of January, which would have allowed Denton to meet the position start date of Feb. 1.

But at a multi-governmental meeting between commissioners and representatives from the towns of Sylva, Dillsboro, Webster and the Village of Forest Hills, it was proposed by Commissioner Tom Massie that a task force be formed to examine the current EDC bylaws.

After attending this meeting, Denton decided to ask to continue serving as Sylva’s town manger.

“I basically did not see a resolution in sight,” Denton said. “I asked the board to consider keeping me.”

He said that he is no longer interested in the EDC position.

“I’m through with that,” he said.

Denton is remaining positive about the EDC attempts to get the county’s economic development efforts functioning again.

“I feel confidant when they get this worked out they will have a great program.”

Reviewing the bylaws

The fate of Jackson County’s EDC is up in the air after members of the task force committee met Jan. 28.

The task force — comprised of Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan, Sylva Mayor Brenda Oliver, Dillsboro Mayor Jean Hartbarger, Webster Mayor Steve Gray, and Forest Hills representative Irene Hooper — examined the EDC bylaws addressing the hiring of an executive director and the EDC’s budget. They discussed two options to solve the problem that arose with offering the job to Denton.

The first option would allow the EDC to employ its own executive director, McMahan suggested. He said this would allow the county to stay out of the hiring process and would only require the county to contribute its per capita payment.

But this idea was not something that Oliver particularly favored.

“I am not comfortable with the director being employed with the EDC,” she said.

She said based on the executive director job description the director is seen as a county employee.

But McMahan disagreed with Oliver. He said this option would allow one entity to have control over the position.

“It might be better that they control the whole nine yards instead of having two masters,” he said.

Also, if the EDC is given the authority to hire the director, Gray questioned how the EDC would fund the position. Under the current bylaws the county and each municipality pays one dollar for each resident, which generates more than $30,000.

“Would that be enough money to fund a director?” Gray asked.

McMahan said that if this option is approved that the county should contribute more to fund the position.

“I think we would be willing to increase that, but there again, if the county gives $50,000 and the EDC sets a hiring salary of $60,000, that money’s got to come from somewhere else,” he said.

The second option discussed would be for the county forming an EDC department. If this option is approved, then the EDC would be dissolved and an EDC advisory board would be established to assist the director with any questions or issues involving their job. McMahan said the department could be operated similar to the county planning department. The county employs a planner who meets with a voluntary board to discuss issues, he explained.

Under this option the money generated from the per capita payment would be used specifically to create a budget for future economic development.

No decision was made at the Jan. 28 meeting. Task force members are planning to discuss this issue at their next board meetings in the next two weeks. Representatives have scheduled another meeting to continue the bylaws discussion at 5 p.m. on Feb. 11.

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