Weaverville Town Leadership Imploding? - TribPapers

Weaverville Town Leadership Imploding?

Is the leadership of Weaverville imploding? Photo by Clint Parker

Weaverville – In the last few months, the mayor attempted to bypass public records law, the town manager is on leave, the vice mayor stepped down, and the town attorney resigned. What is going on in Weaverville? That’s what residents should be asking themselves.

An email to Weaverville Town Manager Selena Coffey this week came back with this automated reply: “Hello. I am on an extended leave until July 19th. In my absence, I have appointed Fire Chief Scottie Harris as Acting Town Manager.”

With the vote on the budget days away, Coffey will not be present at the June regular council meeting, where the 2024-2025 budget will be voted on, and she will be out for a full month during what is usually a critical time in the town’s financial process.

Mayor Patrick Fitzsimmons asked about Coffey, said she was on medical leave. The Tribune contacted Coffey, who confirmed her doctor had put her on medical leave due to the “hostile work environment.”

A request by the Tribune for emails between staff and council members, both from public and private email accounts, dating back to the first of this year revealed Fitzsimmons used a personal email to get around public records laws to talk about Coffey’s performance. 

How do we know that’s what he did? Because he said it in an email on Jan. 28 of this year. “Sending this to you via personal email, so it is not public record. Please read attached.” 

When asked about the email sent from his personal account, Fitzsimmons admitted that he was wrong to send it that way and that he was trying to handle a personnel issue privately out of the public eye. “I will not do that again,” he told the Tribune.

In North Carolina, emails related to public business, even if created on private devices or accounts, are considered public records under the law. This law applies to all records made or received in connection with public business, irrespective of the device or medium used. Therefore, whether a public official uses personal resources to create and send these records does not exempt them from public access. The principle holds for all forms of records, emphasizing the state’s firm policy for transparency and accessibility.

When public officials use private email accounts for public business, it is their responsibility to retain and provide access to relevant records. Failure to retain or provide access to these records can lead to legal consequences, including criminal liability for destroying public records without authorization and personal liability for failing to comply with access requirements.

What was in the attachment?

Fitzsimmons told colleagues, “I want to notify you of events of the past few days that have caused concern for me related to our Manager, Selena Coffey.

“Vice Mayor Cordell and I conducted a performance review of Selena and Jennifer this fall. We polled you all for your opinions. The attorney scored very high, with little concerns raised. The manager scored lower, and concerns were raised…the same ones we raised with her in previous reviews.

“As part of this process, we asked about her leave records, which were produced last Thursday. Neither Catherine nor I have seen the records yet, but were advised that Selena had taken zero sick days in all of 2023 even though she had called in sick numerous times…

“That night, I had three long conversations with Selena where she was emotionally volatile, made odd accusations, indicated she was going to resign, and blasted Council as micro-managing, unfair and unworthy of her trust, etc.

“We made a plan to meet the next day to discuss these issues, but, ironically, she canceled due to being ill. This is not the first time I or Catherine have experienced combative, emotional behavior from Selena.

“My greater concern is that we are experiencing a fracture among our leadership staff. There have been threatened resignations, and one now has. When I asked Selena the reason for the sudden resignation of our police chief, she indicated he was tired of all the hassle. There is dysfunction among our staff that needs to be addressed.”

Fitzsimmons also had five points to address with Coffey: rebuilding an effective working relationship with the Town Attorney, who has now resigned, the fracturing leadership staff, making her leave records accurate and truthful, and having a greater physical presence in town and with staff.