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Lawyer to negotiate Harry Jones' contract

Mecklenburg commissioners hired a lawyer Tuesday to represent the county in contract negotiations with County Manager Harry Jones.

Last week, Jones and his lawyer, John Gresham of Charlotte, met in closed session with commissioners to present revisions to Jones’ contract.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to hire Charlotte lawyer Felicia Washington, who specializes in employment law, to advise commissioners on the negotiations.

After Tuesday’s policy meeting, board Chair Pat Cotham said Washington’s fee hasn’t been determined.

Cotham and commissioners Bill James and Dumont Clarke said it was appropriate for the board to hire an outside lawyer who understands the complexities of contracts.

“The board felt it is best to have a counsel that is not working with the manager and staff and to get someone who in particular works in this area of law,” Clarke said.

Jones’ contract has been revised at least six times since he became county manager 13 years ago, Gresham said. Jones declined to comment on Tuesday’s action.

Gresham wouldn’t go into specifics about the proposed revisions of Jones’ contract. He said they set a date for Jones’ retirement – Nov. 2, 2015 – and they provide a mechanism for what could happen if the county manager had to leave his job for health reasons. Jones, 62, has been battling pancreatic cancer.

“It sets an end date and provides for different contingencies,” Gresham said Tuesday. “Harry wanted the contract constructed in such a way that it deals with a number of scenarios and is written in such a way that it’s in the best interest of continuing good government in the county.”

Jones and several board members, including Cotham, have increasingly been at odds in recent months. Tensions have built since the previous board denied Jones a pay raise in November.

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