Kenny Hardin, Salisbury City Councilman
♦ Since I’ve been on the City Council, I’ve repeatedly said I don’t play politics. Unfortunately not all of my colleagues on Council are listening, especially Mayor Karen Alexander. This was evidenced by the waste of time I spent this morning answering questions from an Attorney she hired to “investigate” me and an issue with a City Employee that was dragging on for months wasting time, money, and valuable city resources. As I said to the Attorney retained by the Mayor to investigate me, we have Fibrant financially draining the City, a lowered bond rating, an unsolved murder of a child, and out of control gun violence. Yet the Mayor saw more importance in wasting taxpayer money to have me answer questions from an Attorney because I allegedly hurt an employee’s feelings by constructively criticizing her job performance. Wow.
To bring everyone up to speed, the City’s Public Information Officer filed an internal complaint against me several months ago with the City Human Resources Department. Keep in mind I am an elected official and not a City employee. A year ago, I stated to her Supervisor, the City Manager, in a closed meeting with her in attendance that I felt she did not meet the standards of respect and the customer friendly values the City promotes in the execution of her duties. I was disappointed the City Manager took no action on my concern. I was then told the employee felt as if I was harassing her. I was asked by the City Manager to meet with the City’s in-house legal counsel about this instead of him acting on my concern. As I explained to the outside Attorney conducting the investigation initiated by Mayor Alexander, I am and will continue to criticize employee behavior as I recognize it. I will continue to hold City employees accountable for their behavior, but will laud them when they exhibit exceptional behavior also.
This all came about back in May 2016 when I received a call from a Charlotte TV News Reporter. The Reporter shared concerns that the Public Information Officer (PIO) had called and disrespectfully questioned her about her professional relationship with me. The PIO allegedly said to the Reporter, “I know about your relationship with Kenny Hardin. Nothing goes on in this City unless I know about it or it goes through me.” I immediately contacted the City Manager and asked for a meeting with him and the employee. During the meeting, I explained to them both that I don’t need their permission to talk with the media nor will they control who I talk with. After the meeting ended and before I could reach my car from the City Manager’s office, the employee contacted the TV Reporter and chewed into her for calling me and reporting her. I felt this was extremely unprofessional and violated a private personnel meeting. I recontacted the City Manager and shared this new information. Instead of responding and holding the employee accountable for her unprofessional behavior, I was told that I was harassing the employee.
In February 2017, I was contacted by a citizen who requested to meet with the Police Chief to discuss public safety concerns. The citizen asked that I sit in on the discussion. Instead of having law enforcement leadership attend the meeting, the City Manager proposed to send the PIO. I disagreed with this and shared my concerns in a series of emails with the City Manager, who summarily disregarded my request. It is my opinion the City Manager has no respect for the reporting structure that calls for him to report to the City Council and not that the Council reports to him. I bowed out of the meeting and encouraged the citizen to do the same. I felt the PIO’s presence would not add any value to the meeting and she was only being sent to serve as a witness, as said by the Mayor, and not a productive member. The Chief and one of his Captains eventually attended and the meeting was a success.
During this ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money this morning, the outside Attorney acknowledged this investigation was called for by the Mayor. I immediately shared my displeasure and disappointment. I told him of the telephone conversation the Mayor and I had several weeks ago where she said she hoped all of this could’ve been avoided and how it would negatively impact the perception of the City. I reminded the Mayor then and the Attorney this morning that I was not the one who engaged in the pointless frivolity of filing complaints based on constructive criticism nor was I the one who has allowed this to manifest into the ridiculous outcome of this morning. I shared with both that I was prepared to countersue the employee and the City for defamation and slander by falsely alleging I somehow engaged in a pattern of harassment against her. I asked the Attorney that since I am not employed by the City, had not engaged in ethical violations and was simply doing what I was elected to do, why was this even necessary? He agreed it wasn’t. He said that he was simply retained to gather information for the Mayor, but didn’t think it needed to go further and would be concluding his investigation today.
He then pulled out two articles from a February 1st RFP story and another written a few days later in the Salisbury Post on my exchange with the City Manager. He asked if I had written the one in the RFP. I explained that I don’t write for the RFP and the article was taken from my Facebook page and reprinted with permission. I showed him written evidence and confirmation where the RFP Editor asked and I agreed with the caveat that he adds the tag line “Reprinted with Permission.” I explained to him that the Editor of the Salisbury Post has asked and done the same thing previously from a Facebook post. On the Salisbury Post article, he asked if I was happy and supported the article. I expressed how I had sent a message to the Reporter and the Paper’s Editor expressing my discontent. I had warned them both that if any mention was made of the reporter’s assertion that I had a vendetta against the employee; I would file legal action against them for slander.
I explained to the Attorney that outside of the meeting with the City Manager back in May of 2016, I have not had a single conversation or interaction with the employee. I went even further to say I don’t even have a full grasp of what she looks like as evidenced by our both being in a Community meeting three weeks ago and I didn’t know who she was until she introduced herself. So, none of this was personal. I explained to the Attorney how I routinely compliment City employees in open Council meetings, how I’ve worked with the School system and other City entities to resolve issues, and how citizens routinely reach out to me to help resolve issues and concerns. I showed the Attorney a message I received recently from a citizen who shared her appreciation for my advocacy.
I ended the investigatory interview by saying that although I was disappointed that the Mayor couldn’t have simply just asked me instead of engaging in this game of political back door politics that has left me disappointed in her; I wasn’t dismissing the significance. I explained that I was too engaged in other more serious matters in this City to be concerned about whether I hurt someone’s feelings because I spoke my truth. This City and the citizens deserve better than this type of pointless politics.