Mecklenburg commissioners said County Manager Harry Jones erred in not promptly informing them about a $60,000 settlement to the former county mental health director, and leaving the public with a misleading impression about that director's final pay.
But commissioners ultimately concluded that Jones acted within his authority in reaching the deal with former director Grayce Crockett.
"The County Manager made a reasoned and sound decision in the best interests of Mecklenburg County taxpayers and had the authority to do so without prior Board approval," commissioners said in a joint statement released late Tuesday night.
Jones apologized for not telling the board about the deal sooner and for leaving the public with an impression "that you might perceive was incorrect and misleading."
"In my career I think I've done a reasonably good job of communicating the action that I take, but in this regard I failed in doing so in the proper way," Jones said after the board emerged from closed session just before 11 p.m.
Also, Jones said he erred in releasing what he called "privileged information" about money given to Commissioner Jim Pendergraph when he retired as sheriff in 2007. Jones sent an email to commissioners saying he'd approved additional money for Pendergraph above what was allowed in county policy.
Pendergraph said he never requested additional money, and he and some other board members questioned the release of information from his personnel file last week. The information had been requested by Commissioner George Dunlap.
Commissioners said while they believed Jones "seriously erred" in releasing the information about Pendergraph, they think he did so without malice.
Jones said he apologized to Pendergraph, and the commissioner accepted it.
Commissioners Chair Jennifer Roberts said the board considers the matter closed for now. But commissioners will consider the episode again during Jones' annual evaluation this summer. The board also plans to put their statement on the issue in Jones' personnel file.
In their statement, commissioners said Jones must improve communication with them on personnel matters and other topics of public interest. They said they would work with Jones "to establish clear expectations for how similar matters will be handled in the future."
Commissioners met for more than three hours behind closed doors to explore the issues stemming from the Crockett settlement, taking a break between the private talks to hold their main public meeting.
The Crockett settlement has come under scrutiny since it was first reported in the Observer last week.
Crockett's resignation last month came as federal housing regulators faulted her department for poor oversight of Mecklenburg Open Door, a large mental health contractor.
In response to questions about her final compensation, a deputy county attorney earlier this month told the Observer that Crockett had been paid about $99,000 for accrued sick leave and vacation.
Last week, however, county officials acknowledged that most of the payout was negotiated to protect the county's legal interests and to bring about an immediate change in leadership.
Most commissioners said they were troubled that they weren't consulted about the decision or notified about it until last week.
Some on the board questioned whether Jones followed county policy in approving the deal with Crockett and her attorney. Under Mecklenburg policy, the manager is authorized to settle claims or lawsuits against the county if the amount doesn't exceed $30,000.
Jones has said the decision was made "in the best financial interest" of the county.
For some, though, the Crockett case was just the latest in a string of controversies.
Jones became the subject of sharp criticism following investigations into spending at a Department of Social Services program that bought Christmas gifts for needy children. A former county worker who volunteered with the Giving Tree program pleaded guilty to embezzling money from the charity.
Jones also found himself apologizing for two widely criticized e-mails. In 2009, after receiving an e-mail from a resident critical of the alleged DSS misspending, Jones forwarded the note to the man's employer. The following year, the manager was chastised by county commissioners after sending an e-mail expressing distrust of library leaders.
But some commissioners have praised Jones for making Mecklenburg government more efficient and guiding the county through a difficult recession.
He has also been credited with hiring good managers and helping the county maintain its AAA bond rating. He and the county won national praise for launching a system that helps evaluate the effectiveness of county services.
Jones manages a $1.35 billion budget and a staff of more than 4,000. He is being paid $283,011 in total compensation this year. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.