State LGC ‘Strongly Opposed’ To City Rehiring Freeman

State LGC ‘strongly opposed’ to city rehiring Freeman
By Paul Nielsen, The Daily Staff Writer Oct 12, 2022

The state’s deputy treasurer recommended Wednesday that City Council not rehire Montre Freeman as city manager.

Deputy Treasurer Sharon Edmundson told City Council in an email that the state’s Local Government Commission is “strongly opposed” to the city rehiring Freeman, the city’s manager from January 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021.

“Elizabeth City is facing several challenges and needs a strong leader to move the city forward, one that the entire council can support,” Edmundson wrote.

Multiple sources told The Daily Advance that Freeman was one of two finalists scheduled to be interviewed by City Council for the vacant city manager’s job Wednesday evening. The city has been without a permanent m a n a g e r since Freeman was terminated without cause last fall.

Edmundson voiced two major concerns about rehiring Freeman in her email to city leaders.

She said when Freeman served as the administrator for Enfield — his job before he was hired to be Elizabeth City’s city manager — the town struggled with budgetary control and accurate budget preparation. She said those concerns were discovered during an LGC staff review of the town’s financial operations conducted Oct. 30, 2020.

Edmundson also noted that Elizabeth City has still not filed its audited financial statements with the LGC for the year that ended June 30, 2021, as required by state law. Those statements were due on Oct. 31, 2021, and were almost a year late as of Wednesday.

“It was Mr. Freeman’s responsibility as the city manager to ensure the timely completion of the audit,” Edmundson said. “As a result of this delay, the 2022 audit also will be delayed.”

Edmundson also told city leaders that a large community with the critical services and complex structure of Elizabeth City must hire a city manager who understands sound budgeting and timely fiscal reporting.

“A candidate with a history of struggling with these important responsibilities in a much smaller organization has not demonstrated the ability to manage the finances of a multi-million-dollar municipality,” Edmundson said of Freeman.

Second Ward Councilor Rose Whitehurst said Wednesday she’s “absolutely” opposed to rehiring Freeman.

“I support their (LGC) recommendation 100 percent,” she said.

First Ward City Councilor Joe Peel said Edmundson’s email is “right on target” and he sees the state’s opposition to rehiring Freeman as a warning from one of the “highest persons” on the LGC.

He said if the city rehires Freeman the LGC could come in and take over the city finances. The city is already on the LGC’s watch list.

“If LGC takes us over the City Council pretty much just becomes an advisory board,” Peel said. “The city manager, whoever it is, would have nothing to do with the finances.”

Peel said if the LGC took control of the city’s finances it would severely impact efforts to attract business to the city.

“It would be a real detriment to the growth that is taking place right now,” Peel said.

Fourth Ward Councilor Johnnie Walton said the city’s financial problems started before 2021. He said it was his hope City Council picked a new manager at its Wednesday evening closed-door meeting.

“(LGC) knows we have had problems and they haven’t had a chance to help us clear those problems up,” Walton said. “I keep asking everybody when are we going to really find out where the problem started at. You have to start where the problem began. You can’t blame people with what is going on now.”