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The fireworks behind Harry Jones’ pay vote

He became angry, revealing his twisted view on performance

Plenty of folks dream about telling off their bosses. Harry Jones can actually get away with it.

Mecklenburg County’s manager has repeatedly given the public reason to believe that he sees himself as beyond reproach. The county careens from one failure to another on his watch, while Jones appears to cruise along enjoying complete impunity.

That suspicion has now been confirmed beyond any doubt. Multiple sources tell the Observer editorial board that Jones was repeatedly belligerent toward county commissioners when they informed him in closed session last week that he would not be getting a raise. Only someone who considers himself royalty – or wants to be fired – would dare to be unashamedly hostile toward his supervisors. Jones and commissioners alike have forgotten who reports to whom.

Here’s what happened, according to sources:

Jones initially told commissioners he wanted four things:

• A 4.5 percent raise on his base salary of $246,138, for his “exemplary performance”;

• An additional 2 percent hike to make his base salary the county’s highest, above the expected salary of a new medical director;

• A cash payout for 100 percent of his accrued sick leave time whenever he leaves county employment; and

• An agreement to keep his wife on his health insurance until she’s eligible for Medicare, even if he leaves county employment.

At the last minute, Jones withdrew his request for some of that.

County commissioners debated Jones’ compensation package in closed session, with all agreeing he was asking for too much. Some wanted to give him no raise; some wanted to give him a 1.5 percent raise. In the end, a majority voted for no raise. They did approve the health insurance for his wife, a perk that rank-and-file employees don’t enjoy.

Jones rejoined the meeting and commissioners Chairman Harold Cogdell informed him of their decision. Jones became angry and aggressive, upbraiding his bosses for their audacity. He even challenged them to fire him.

The whole chapter is extremely revealing. It demonstrates just how little Jones grasps his own shortcomings. He thinks he deserves a big raise despite overseeing a disastrous property revaluation and never-ending troubles at the county’s largest department, the Department of Social Services. Jones is fortunate to still have a job and enjoys total compensation around $300,000. No raise is the very best he deserved.

His response was as startling as his expectations. His complete disrespect for his supervisors lays bare his imperious nature and fundamental problems in the county’s governance.

Mecklenburg commissioners have long been obsequious to Jones. They did virtually nothing to hold him accountable when he mishandled embezzlement at a county-affiliated charity, or when top county officials lied to the public about a severance payment to the outgoing Grayce Crockett, or when he released private information about commissioner Jim Pendergraph, or when he sent inappropriate and emotional emails about the library, or when he tried to intimidate a complaining citizen into silence. And now, he has stonewalled on a badly flawed revaluation.

That commissioners took the obvious step of giving him no raise is encouraging. That they sat there and tolerated being berated by their subordinate is not. If the average worker gave into that temptation, his boss wouldn’t stand for it. But county commissioners will?

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