Fox's Golden Parachute Is Packed With $61,000
Guilford commissioners upset over county manager bonus
Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox announced on Thursday, May 3,
that she's retiring on Feb. 1, 2013,
and, thanks to an unpublicized modification in county policy that Fox orchestrated in March,
Fox will, in her last paycheck from the county,
get a lump sum payout from Guilford County taxpayers of over $61,000.
Until two months ago, there was a cap on payouts that employees could get
under the voluntary retirement program the county put in place about two years ago.
However, thanks to a change in county policy
that was buried in the county commissioners' documentation for the Thursday, March 1 commissioners meeting,
Fox will get a $61,000 lump sum payout upon her departure instead of $16,500
– the amount Fox would have gotten if the cap on the payout hadn't been removed at the March 1 meeting.
Under the current plan, county employees with 20 to 24 years of service get a payout, upon retiring,
of two months pay, not to exceed $8,500;
while employees with 25 to 29 years in the retirement program
get a lump sum payout of three months pay, up to a cap of $12,500.
Under that same plan, which has been in place for the last two years,
Fox would have received a maximum of $16,500...
The $61,000 Fox will get equals four months pay of her $183,200 annual salary.
The change, which has never been called to the attention of the Board of Commissioners,
or ever been discussed by them, was on the consent agenda at the commissioners' March 1 meeting,
and was adopted by the board along with a long list of other items of county business.
The only change in the retirement policy that night
was that county employees who put in for retirement by May 1 and leave the county by Feb. 1, 2013,
will get four months salary with no cap;
and that's only for employees who have been with the county 30 years or more, as Fox has been.
With the change, those employees and those alone were no longer subject to a cap of $16,500
as the highest amount any employee could receive as a lump sum payout upon retirement.
The "consent agenda" for the Board of Commissioners is generally used for the board
to quickly approve routine housekeeping matters without having to vote on each individual item.
...Items on the consent agenda aren't discussed at meetings
unless a commissioner specifically requests an item be pulled from that agenda
and discussed by the board.
...There was no discussion of the move at any public meeting,
and even after Fox announced her retirement many commissioners and others
were under the mistaken impression that Fox would receive a maximum of $16,500
as a payout from the plan.
Several members of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners said Thursday
that they’re angry County Manager Brenda Jones Fox will receive a $61,000 retirement bonus
while the county is looking at layoffs, service cuts and a large tax increase.
They were even angrier to find out that they’d approved the bonus for her.
At issue: a change in policy that temporarily lifted the $16,500 cap on bonus pay for county employees
retiring after more than 30 years of service.
The change was approved in March as part of the commissioners’ consent agenda
— a laundry list of items the commissioners approve at each meeting
without actually discussing them.
Fox benefitted from the temporary offer,
announcing her retirement before the window for extra bonus pay closed on May 1.
A number of the county commissioners said Fox,
who is part of the team that decides which agenda items need to be pulled for an actual discussion,
should have highlighted a policy shift that would increase her retirement bonus from $16,500 to $61,000,
or four months’ worth of her salary.
Commissioners Paul Gibson, Bruce Davis, Billy Yow, John Parks, Linda Shaw and Bill Bencini
all said they didn’t realize they had approved a policy that would allow such a large bonus for Fox.
Commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston said:
“These commissioners have to start realizing what they’re voting for.
If they would read what’s in their packets, there wouldn’t be any confusion.”
Still, some commissioners want to revisit the agenda item in an open forum.
Gibson, Bencini and Yow all said the payout was too much, particularly in this economic climate.
They said they will move to have the matter reconsidered at their next meeting.
...“I didn’t know it was $61,000,” Bencini said.
“You shouldn’t do something like that on the consent agenda.
There should be discussion.”
...Fox announced her retirement to the commissioners, who are her supervisors, on May 3.
That’s after the bonus offer had expired.
But she told the county’s human resources department
— verbally, not in writing — of her intention to retire before the May 1 deadline.
In a May 4 interview with the News & Record, Fox indicated her retirement bonus would be $16,500
and denied that the offer of a larger bonus had played any part in her decision to retire now.
Fox said Thursday that she doesn’t remember being asked the question in the previous interview,
but she reiterated the bonus didn’t affect her decision.
When asked to respond to commissioners’ complaints that the $61,000 bonus is excessive,
Fox would said, “That’s a matter of opinion.”