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Reality Check: Buncombe's lowest paid employees did not get additional raise in 2016

After five months of asking, News 13 can tell you which Buncombe County employees got an additional 1.5 percent raise in 2016. These raises were given out by former County Manager Wanda Greene, as authorized in the budget passed in 2016. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

After five months of asking, News 13 can tell you which Buncombe County employees got an additional 1.5 percent raise in 2016. These raises were given out by former County Manager Wanda Greene, as authorized in the budget passed in 2016.

In June 2016, county commissioners approved a 2 percent raise for all county employees and an additional 1.5 percent raise.

Commissioners said the additional 1.5 percent raise was intended for the lowest paid employees. News 13 has since learned 123 people got the 1.5 percent raise and 16 of those earned more than $100,000.

On May 17, 2017, News 13 sent a record request to County Attorney Michael Frue asking for "a list of employees who received a 1.5 percent raise last year."

Wanda Greene responded on May 20, a Saturday, at 8:29 p.m. She sent a spreadsheet with 300 names of people she said got raises. Only one of the raises was 1.5 percent.

News 13 counted 24 people from this initial list that were on the county's updated list of people who got a 1.5 percent raise.

In May, News 13 followed up for weeks, asking for what was requested. On May 30, Greene announced her retirement, but the investigative team continued to ask for the list of people who got a 1.5 percent raise.

"We hope to have it this afternoon," Greene responded via email on May 30.

On May 31, Greene emailed, "I just have to summarize one more spreadsheet then will have it for you."

On June 1, Greene sent a spreadsheet that she said "shows those positions that benefited from the funding for the 1.5% increase." The document did not have names, just position numbers. It included 35 positions listed under a heading of "Additional increases-1.5% salary adjustment." It included 234 positions under a heading of "1.5% increases retropay recommendation" and 56 positions under a heading of "1.5% increases."

Cross referencing this spreadsheet against a spreadsheet recently provided by Buncombe Couunty, News 13 found only 56 positions under the "1.5% increase" received the 1.5 percent increase. There were 67 more names on the list, newly provided by Buncombe County.

Those 67 people include Wanda Greene, her son, and her sister. At the time they all made six-figure salaries. Greene's son has since resigned, and Greene's sister underwent a "voluntary reassignment" which included a $30,00 pay cut.

While News 13 was asking questions in May and June, so was Commissioner Ellen Frost. News 13 interviewed Frost on October 5 and asked, "Were you a recipient of what you felt was ever incomplete, or inaccurate information?"

"Yes, very much so for the last, probably, at least a year," Frost responded.

Commission Chair Brownie Newman said Greene provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the commission and the public.

"The pay raises were not given to the lower paid employees. So, to me, it's not a negative that some people got a bonus, but it did come at the expense of others who really warranted them more, and that's the point. It's really disappointing," said Newman.

Commissioners say focusing on the lowest paid employees remains a concern of theirs. News 13 counted less than 33 percent of the people who got a 1.5 percent raise made less than $40,000 a year.

While commissioners say the raises were meant for the lowest paid employees, the budget stated, "The County Manager retains discretion in dispersing the remaining 1.5%."

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