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Archive for November 8th, 2009

Fire Harry Jones. Tomorrow.

Over the years I’ve defended County Manager Harry Jones in public and private as a competent manager who seems to have the right goals and standards in place for Mecklenburg County. But his handling of the DSS mess is a firing offense, specifically his move to quiet a critic of DSS by calling the man’s employer to silence him.

Jones has not said why he contacted Bank of America after a local BAC employee complained that he felt “duped” by giving money to DSS’ charitable efforts for kids. That is no doubt because the tone of the email exchange is unmistakable — and chilling.

“There seems to be a need for a wholesale cleanup of many county agencies, and I think that starts from the top down,” BofA employee Harry Lomax wrote to county officials. A week later, Jones sent the email on to a BofA VP with an ominous “Do you know Harry Lomax” addition.

The response was immediate from BofA government liaison Betty Turner. Lomax’s email was deemed “embarassing” and Jones was assured that BofA execs were on to Lomax: “I am tracking it down. I don’t know him – I have alerted charles. Will be back to you.” Question: Who the hell is “charles?” The Uptown paper of record account leaves this out.

Anyone with even a glancing understanding of Charlotte’s history is probably flashing back to the time when uppity mill hands who questioned local leaders were met with, “What’s your name again? I know your pastor.” The threat was clear — shut up and know your place.

Harry Jones clearly has no problem pulling the same power levers as boss men of years past. And no doubt Jones has done this sort of thing before to be so comfortable as to put such a smoking gun in email form, and on such a high profile matter as DSS’s continued money and management woes. For that reason, the “isolated incident” defense we are sure to get this week does not wash.

Harry Jones has proven he does not have the temperament required of highly compensated public employees, particularly at a time when revenues are tight and citizens are concerned about spending. Criticism from engaged citizens — Harry Lomax was concerned that a county Christmas charity was misusing funds — must be welcomed and encouraged, not kick off corporate retaliation efforts among the lock-step Uptown crowd.

A unanimous vote by the Mecklenburg County commission to remove Jones from his position is the only thing which can restore confidence in the notion that local government works for local citizens rather than actively conspires against them.

Update: Betty Turner is a registered lobbyist for BAC in both North Carolina and Virginia.

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