4-1 vote OKs Edde's position

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lewisburg's treasurer may be a consultant for the city after her retirement to help the next treasurer who could be named by the end of the month. The consultant position was granted after a 4-1 vote and intense questioning by the dissenting councilman.

Councilman Ronald McRady objected to the consulting contract for treasurer Connie Edde saying it did not specify dollar amounts. Based on her current hourly cost and an anticipated 16 hours per week, Edde could be paid $29,000 annually, although she would work as needed.

Such figures were calculated by McRady, including her $34.89 per hour rate. McRady noted the two-year contract might result in payments that could total nearly $58,057, "or about three times what Eddie Fuller was paid" when he retired and remained available to answer questions and be of assistance to his successor, David Orr. Edde's current salary is $72,575.

"I appreciate everything the city has done for me the last 33-1/2 half years," Edde wrote in a March 14 memo to the council, a document that McRady says he didn't see until after reading this month in this newspaper that Edde would be a consultant after retirement.

McRady contends that if someone retires, "They should go home... and not be looking over the shoulder" of their successor. Edde's contract allows her to work for the city in a "remote" position, meaning from a home office by Internet connection, by telephone, fax, or other modern means. That, McRady says, is improper, especially when public funds are at stake.

"I have always strived to do what is best for Lewisburg and will continue the same as an independent contractor," Edde wrote March 14.

The tone of McRady's voice while asking his questions has been interpreted by some as a challenge to Edde's integrity and faithful execution of her responsibilities as a fiduciary. The discussion became emotional for her during the Tuesday night council meeting and she struggled to maintain her composure. During the later part of the meeting, she sobbed quietly from her center row seat in the meeting room before leaving City Hall.

"I got no pleasure out of that," McRady said in a telephone interview Wednesday, repeating a position he described during the public meeting attended by more than a dozen residents and city officials.

"This is not a vendetta," he said in the telephone call followed by an in-person discussion.

Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. noted Edde has been the city treasurer for 18 years, adding, "I've never heard your character questioned.

"This is hinging on character assassination," Whitehead said, describing the style of McRady's questioning.

Whitehead thanked Edde for her service and indicated the council would hire a treasurer soon.

"Citizens need to know" how city money is spent, McRady replied, disagreeing with Whitehead's description of his questions.

Newly elected Councilman Steve Thomas said McRady's exchange with Edde "was demeaning for the city treasurer and could have been handled differently."

Voting with Thomas and Whitehead for the contract were Councilmen Hershel Davis and Robin Minor.

State law allows a two-year exemption for a city treasurer who is not a Certified Municipal Financial Officer. Whoever is hired by the city to succeed Edde will have to become certified by the summer of 2013. Other councilmen said a consultant such as Edde would provide a good transition for the city and the next treasurer.

Wednesday, McRady said that he would agree to a six-month period for Edde to be a city consultant to help her successor.

"I have no problem with a six-month transition," McRady said Wednesday afternoon. "I don't think a new employee would have a problem" with that.

"But who wants someone looking over their shoulder for two years?" he asked.

McRady emphasized that his questions and remarks were limited to the memorandum and the contract. Wednesday, he continued to emphasize that he and Quinn Brandon Stewart, who left the council by not running in the May election, did not know about the March 14 memo that led to the consulting contract approved exactly three months later on Tuesday night this week.

Authority and procedure were another point he made. Edde replied to McRady's point, about him not being informed about the pending contract, saying the other councilmen had spoken with her about it and they agreed she didn't need a contract. However, one was drafter since McRady mentioned the subject in council discussion earlier this spring.

She should have gone to McRady, he said.

After the March 6 council workshop, Edde said, "I was told I needed a contract so on March 7, one was prepared... It didn't exist until you asked for one."

Wednesday, McRady alleged, "She got three of the councilmen to go along with her. Not me and Quinn...

"These three people voted Eddie Fuller a bonus," McRady said. "This is three times what he got."

"This goes back to when I ran for office," he said, repeating his campaign slogan: Responsible and accountable government.

"We're talking business," McRady said. "I work for the residents. I do not work for City Hall."

Asked about Edde being "driven to tears, he said, "That doesn't bother me. She had the three votes. That was just a formality last night, and I knew that... because councilman Stewart and I were both excluded.

"She may have cried a little last night, but she got what she wanted. For $29,000, I'd have cried. I have a responsibility to the people to see what it will cost.

Sympathy shouldn't control right and wrong."