The fragile good will between the Dukes County commission and outgoing county manager E. Winn Davis began to unravel this week amid reports that Mr. Davis had refused to sign an agreement preventing him from bringing a lawsuit against the county in the future.
The latest rift is over a mutual release agreement that is part of a letter from the county commission to accept Mr. Davis's resignation. The mutual release clause would bind the county manager from taking legal action against any county representatives or county employees in the future.
The same clause would also prevent the county from taking future legal action against Mr. Davis.
Mr. Davis's decision not to sign the agreement irked some county commissioners, and at least one has reportedly called for the previous agreement with him to be rescinded, and for him to be dismissed immediately.
The recent shakeup also threatens what had been a peace accord of sorts between the county manager and the county commission. When Mr. Davis first announced his resignation in May, several commissioners praised him for not being negative on his way out the door.
Mr. Davis at the time said he resigned because he felt his performance had become too much of a distraction in recent weeks. Among other things he had come under fire for a failed gambit to use federal disaster funds to repair the breach at Norton Point beach.
It was understood at the time that a group of commissioners went to Mr. Davis and asked that he either resign or face the possibility of being fired. After several heated discussions - including one two-hour executive session - the two sides struck a peaceful settlement, culminating with the commission accepting Mr. Davis's letter of resignation.
Commission chairman Paul Strauss said at the time that the resignation would be effective Sept. 14, although the county manager would leave his post on August 17 and take four weeks of paid vacation that he had earned.
Mr. Davis's resignation and the most recent controversy comes at a time of uncertainty surrounding county government, which is currently under examination by a charter study group elected by voters last fall. The group is charged with making recommendations for change or possibly abolishing county government at the end of 18 months.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Davis confirmed he had spoken with county labor attorney Michael Gilman about the mutual release agreement. He said he had no plans to bring a lawsuit against the county, and had not decided if he needed to sign the agreement.
"I certainly haven't sued anyone, and I don't have plans to. I'm not saying [I will sign the agreement], but I'm not saying no, either," he said.
Mr. Davis said discussions about his resignation and the mutual release agreement have largely taken place in executive session, and he said neither he nor any of the commissioners should be discussing the matter with the press or in public.
But the closed-door discussions leaked into the public arena this week after several commissioners contacted Mr. Strauss to voice concerns that Mr. Davis had not yet signed the mutual release agreement.
Mr. Strauss said he was drafting an e-mail to send to the commissioners to update them on the situation and answer several questions he had received from commissioners regarding Mr. Davis's resignation and the mutual release agreement.
A copy of the draft e-mail was obtained by the Gazette yesterday.
Mr. Strauss said he was willing to schedule an emergency meeting this Friday to discuss the matter further, although the meeting had not been scheduled as of late yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Strauss said he remained hopeful that the situation could be resolved amicably. In his e-mail to commissioners, Mr. Strauss acknowledged that he had been contacted by some commissioners upset with the way Mr. Davis had dealt with the situation.
In his e-mail Mr. Strauss also said he had called Mr. Gilman about Mr. Davis's reaction to the county acceptance letter.
Mr. Strauss said he sent the e-mail as a call for reason.
"My responsibility as chair is to provide guidance toward an appropriate and honorable solution to the issues . . ." Mr. Strauss wrote. He continued: "My approach to resolving the issues in a rational, calm and fair manner, rather than in an emotional shoot-from-the-hip approach, reflects the ultimate in leadership. The approach some of you propose would certainly get us to court, with an uncertain outcome."
But county commissioner Roger Wey said the latest internal flap is another potential setback for county government, and he advocated for a more moderate approach.
"I think people are making a mountain out of a molehill on this one. Even if he [Mr. Davis} won't sign the agreement that's not grounds for him to be fired. Let's be rational," he said.