In Charlotte, the city that prizes politeness, the way Harry Jones was fired Tuesday has become as big and controversial as his actual termination.
At issue: Mecklenburg County Chairwoman Pat Cotham would not permit the longtime county manager to speak at the dais. And she told him he couldn’t return to his office, that his things would be delivered to him.
All in public, all televised.
“I don’t know if I agree or disagree with the firing,” said Terry Belk, former political action chair of Charlotte’s NAACP. “But to be belittled like that, that’s disgraceful.”
Even Trevor Fuller, one of the commissioners who voted to oust Jones, said he was disappointed that Cotham wouldn’t let Jones speak, and upset with himself that he didn’t argue during the meeting to let him speak.
“I hold Harry Jones in high regard, and I don’t think we (commissioners) acted with class,” Fuller told the Observer. “We should have gone about it in a way that respected Harry’s dignity and allowed us to be dignified. … At the very least, we could have allowed him to speak, even if he wanted to blast each and every one of us.”
Cotham defended her handling of the matter, including her decision to refuse his request to speak.
“I was trying to do everything properly,” she said. “At that moment, (Jones) was no longer an employee of the county. It would not have been appropriate for him to speak. We wouldn’t let other people do that.”
Instead, she tried to suggest that Jones speak his mind to the news media, which was there in force at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I said, ‘The media is here. Go ahead and talk to them,’ ” Cotham said. “He’s had plenty of time to talk. He’s talked to the media before.”
After the meeting, Jones said Cotham was “discourteous” for not allowing him to speak. He said he only wanted to publicly thank his staff and Mecklenburg residents “for the opportunity to serve them.”
Commissioner Dumont Clarke, one of two on the board to vote against firing the county manager, said Wednesday that he feels badly he did not ask Cotham to let Jones speak.
“I was so, frankly, shell-shocked I just wasn’t thinking clearly,” he said. “I think the way she handled that was insensitive and ... not the way you treat someone who has served you faithfully and ably for many years.” Staff Writers David Perlmutt and April Bethea contributed.
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