Under Wanda Greene, some county employees had extra benefits through employment contracts

FILE  - News 13 learned three senior Buncombe County employees working for former County Manager Wanda Greene (Pictured) were receiving a different set of benefits than every other employee. The employees got those benefits through employment contracts offered by Greene.

News 13 learned three senior Buncombe County employees working for former County Manager Wanda Greene were receiving a different set of benefits than every other employee. The employees got those benefits through employment contracts offered by Greene.

The employees recently agreed to get rid of these contracts. Commissioners and new County Manager Mandy Stone didn't know the contracts existed until around the start of October. Stone says she considered the contracts, "Extremely problematic and invalid."

Stone says only the county manager, clerk to the board, and finance director should have employee contracts. That's because they are appointed by commissioners. Under former County Manager Wanda Greene, there were more than just three contracts.

"I don't understand the rationale for contracts for any employees who are other than those three appointed employees," Stone said.

One of those additional people with a contract is the current Director of Employee Benefits and Risk Management, Curt Euler. He served as HR Director from August 22, 2015 until August 10, 2017. He signed his contract September 21, 2016 for a salary of $148,429.01.

If fired, the contract entitled Euler to receive a year of salary and a year of health insurance for him and his family.

Euler started working for Buncombe County on December 19, 2009. His contract stated, "Euler shall be credited with his time of government service with the City of Asheville and his hire date with Buncombe County shall be retroactive to October 1, 2000, for purposes of determining benefits under the Personnel Ordinance."

Euler began working for Buncombe County as an attorney and is now classified as an attorney again. His contract stated, "Euler shall be entitled to an award of its attorneys' fees and costs incurred in enforcing any of the County's obligations under this agreement."

Nineteen days before signing his contract, Euler's name appears as a notary on a contract for Wanda Greene. That contract was for Greene to receive a year's worth of salary not to retire early. Greene never signed the document, but did receive a full year of salary before retiring early. Personnel records also show Greene gave Euler a $10,000 performance bonus in 2016.

Commissioners have questioned powers they say Greene gave herself in the 2016 budget. Diane Price is the Budget Director. The department's website says, "The Budget Department works closely with the County Manager in developing and administering the countywide budget."

Price signed her contract the same day as Euler's for a salary of $173,066.72. If fired, her contract entitled her to a year-and-a-half of salary and a year-and-a-half of health insurance. These Buncombe County contracts never expired.

That appears to be regular for Buncombe County.

Wanda Greene was working under a contract signed in 1997; however, that's not typical for other county contracts we've seen.

News 13 has spent the last six weeks researching to put these contracts into context. We requested and received contracts from Mecklenburg, Guilford, and New Hanover Counties. They didn't have any employees with contracts other than the people who were appointed and/or contracted by their boards. Also, the longest severance pay in those contracts was for six months. Once Stone found out about the non-appointed employees' contracts, she sought to get rid of them.

"I'm not going to support that. We're not going to move forward in that environment. It's just not going to happen in this administration. I can't explain why it happened in the past, or what Dr. Greene's reasons were. I was just clear from the moment I knew that, for me, they were invalid and, however, we had to move forward to reach a place of resolution, whether that was voluntary, or involuntary. We were going to do that," Stone said.

Finance Director Tim Flora's signed a contract on July 3, 2015. He also served as the information technology director. His contract stated if he was fired as finance director, "Flora shall retain his position as information technology director for County and all salary and benefits commensurate with that position."

Flora started working for Buncombe County on Oct. 1, 2007. His contract stated if he resigned in good standing, "Flora shall be eligible to receive all benefits as outlined in the 2014 Buncombe County Employee Retirement Incentive Plan exclusive of the eligibility requirement..."

"He no longer has that contract," said Stone, who added, "I removed those dual positions and pay for everybody."

Stone said a new contract is being drafted for Flora, and it's just as the finance director. She says she's created a new work place environment that people want to be a part of.

"I've been pretty relentless in my clarity about that. If you want to continue to be employed in a senior leadership role, then these are going to be the rules we move forward with," Stone said.

On October 30, 2017, News 13 interviewed Commissioners Mike Fryar and Ellen Frost, and asked them about these contracts. They spoke about them as if they still existed.

"I think they're being explored legally," Frost said.

"I think were illegal," Fryar said.

The next day, Curt Euler emailed News 13 and said he "voluntarily terminated" his contract. On November 7, County Attorney Michael Frue emailed News 13 to say, "All employment contracts for non-appointed staff have been eliminated."

"They signed statements agreeing that they're invalid and that we won't honor them moving forward," Stone said.

Stone did not have a contract until being appointed county manager. She signed a deal on July 1, 2017. Her contract includes a year's salary as severance.

"If it's out of line, we'll certainly take a look at that," Stone said of her own contract.

Stone's contract is for a yearly salary of $215,568. She says she asked for a lower salary than what was offered. News 13 asked Stone to respond to people questioning whether she is the right person to move Buncombe County forward.

"To the people who question that, I totally get that. I think, ultimately, have we made the changes, and have we sustained the changes? Are we more open and accountable to the public as a whole? That has to be the measure," Stone said.

News 13 wanted to find more context for why Greene offered these contracts, and why the employees accepted them. News 13 requested interviews with Euler and Price. Those requests were turned down. Buncombe County Spokesperson Kassi Day says questions regarding the former contracts are "immaterial." Day says only Greene can answer questions about the contracts.

If you have any opinions on how the county should move forward, Buncombe County wants to hear from you.

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