Things are rarely as bad as they seem, even in the unpredictable, rancorous world of Charlotte politics. That's why now and then it's good to step back from our own problems and get a laugh out of someone else's predicament — er, I mean, gain a broader perspective.
This brings us to Monroe, our neighbor in Union County, which has been shaken by political monkey business of a rare caliber.
Charlotteans first became aware of tensions among the political poobahs of Monroe (properly pronounced MUN-ro) last July, when City Manager Wayne Herron, who could pass for Food Network star Guy Fieri's uncle, suddenly resigned. That move led to a million recriminations and accusations, which led the town to hire a consultant to help them figure out what hit them. The consultant's report came out last month, and the dysfunction, mistrust and bitterness it reveals should make Charlotteans feel better about our own minor political squabbles.
It seems Herron lost a feud with Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan, a veteran law enforcement official who's so tough, she wears a permanent hair helmet in case of emergencies. Herron had only been on the job three years, the same amount of time served by his predecessor, and just a year more than the guy before that. Seems it's not easy handling the Monroe government's viper pit.
It turns out that Duncan was a particular favorite of some City Council members, who wanted to give her a one-time performance bonus for a very "original" reason: if she gets a bonus, said Mayor Bobby Kilgore, maybe she won't retire and leave the city with an extra $28,000 annual expense for her pension.
One of the bonus idea's biggest supporters was council member Dottie Nash, a perennial foe of the city manager, who admitted to secretly taping a meeting with Herron because she didn't think other council members would believe the conversation. She was also cited in the consultant report for nepotism, seeing as how her husband and son — and the son's fiancee — all have good city jobs. Oh, and the son's ex-girlfriend, too. Nash denied the charge of nepotism, while also announcing that night was day and day was night. (Just kidding about that last part.)
The consultant further blasted Nash, who, according to the report, fostered an environment "where there is a strong fear of retaliation and distrust by staff." The distrust became so rampant at Monroe's City Hall, employees were convinced the building was bugged; the report even recommended sweeping the building for listening devices. Nash said she was shocked by claims that she intimidated city employees, especially since she stated, "I've never been anything but nice to staff."
When council met to discuss the bonus idea for Duncan, Herron said he wasn't going to pay someone to not retire. Council rejected the bonus plan, and then the fight was truly on. Accusations and gossip about everyone involved flew around town faster than you could say "bozos on parade," while paranoia struck deep in the hearts of Monroe government — not to mention city manager Herron's wife, who phoned Duncan (anonymously, she thought) and called her a bitch. Duncan had the call traced.
Meanwhile, Duncan talked to Herron and, just to be on the safe side, secretly taped the conversation — a legal move that she says was cleared by a majority of the City Council.
Herron became so frustrated by his dealings with this collection of backstabbers, he finally quit. Who can blame him? The guy who refused a bonus to the police chief instantly received a full year's salary, $151K, after resigning.
It gets even better. First, the report found that few members of council even understood the council-manager form of government, thus throwing doubt on the city leaders' competence. Next, after the report was released, Monroe City Council voted to prohibit its members, city manager or staff from retaliating against people who took part in the report. Nash voted against the resolution, taking a brave stand in favor of retaliation, despite having been "nothing but nice" till that point. Nash also expressed doubts about finding a good new city manager, telling the Observer, "Nobody wants to come into this political mess now." Gee, I wonder why? No matter. What concerns us — and makes us feel grateful — is that for the most part, Charlotte pols haven't sunk to MUN-ro levels of goofy incompetence. The day that happens, I'm outta here.