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Originally published: 2013-08-20 11:46:37
Last modified: 2013-08-20 13:47:47

Update: Ashe County manager resigns

Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell announced her resignation Aug. 20, following a 3-2 vote Monday by county commissioners seeking the end of her employment.

Ashe County Commissioners Judy Poe, Gary Roark and Gerald Price voted to ask Mitchell for her resignation or face termination following a 40 minute executive session on personnel issues Monday evening, according to Mitchell. Commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands voted in opposition.

Mitchell was also given the option to retire, she said.

The resignation, effective Aug. 31, also ends Mitchell's employment as Ashe County Director of Economic Development, a role she has held since 2004.

"I was excused from the executive session," Mitchell said. She was then told she must make her decision overnight.

"I asked for a reason, twice, and they just sat perfectly silent," Mitchell said.

When asked why she thought she was asked to resign, Mitchell said she had no idea.
"I truly don't," Mitchell said. "When you're an appointed manager you work at the pleasure of the board. Where this came from, I'm not sure. We've been discussing the budget review process, but they would say nothing to me."

When asked for comment Tuesday morning, Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe said she had not seen a copy of Mitchell's resignation letter, and said, "It was given to the radio station before commissioner board was given copy."

She declined further comment on the resignation. Roark and Price could not immediately be reached for comment.

"My position requires the support of at least a majority of the board," Mitchell's resignation letter read. "As a result of yesterday's events and the political maneuvering of some commissioners, it has become apparent that, by the slimmest of majorities, I no longer enjoy the political support necessary to serve professionally and productively as the Ashe County Manager."

"Moreover, despite repeated requests for information and details, I have been provided with no information or explanation whatsoever for the reasons for this sudden and unexpected withdrawal of support," her letter continued.

Mitchell said Tuesday she reached the decision to resign Monday night after careful consideration.
"I decided not to let them fire me and take that job from me," Mitchell said. "By resigning, I'm simply handing it back to them. I think that is more professional in the circumstances as they are."

She said the decision also saves county employees "back and forth antagonism" that could result during a firing process.

"I respect our county employees a great deal, and in the overall interest of those employees, it makes more sense for me to resign," Mitchell said. 

Rhodes said Tuesday he had no indication that a vote on Mitchell's future would be held Monday night prior to the board's 2 p.m. work session Monday afternoon.

"When (Commissioner Gary Roark) asked for an executive session on personnel issues to be added at the end of the meeting, I looked over at (Commissioner William Sands) and Mitchell and they didn't know anything about it either," Rhodes said.

During the work session, Roark asked for an additional executive session on personnel issues but offered nothing further.
Rhodes would not comment on what was said during the executive session, and said the process in choosing an interim county manager has not started.

He thanked Mitchell for her years of service to Ashe County, "especially the last two as manager."
"I'm disappointed in losing her and I'm disappointed it had to happen this way," Rhodes said.
Commissioner William Sands said he also had no indication the vote was coming.

"We went into closed session to talk about personnel and I had no clue," Sands said. "When I heard it, I was totally shocked. I'm terribly disappointed."

Sands would not comment on what was said in executive session, but said he still was not sure why Mitchell was asked to resign.

"Still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," Sands said.

Mitchell was named county manager in January 2012, following a 4-1 vote. Ashe County Commissioner Gerald Price cast the lone vote in opposition, citing Mitchell's continued role as Ashe County Economic Developer as the sticking point.

"I feel like personally she would serve the county much better in the role of director of economic development. She did really good there," Price said last year. "But now she will be involved with both, along with teaching a class at Appalachian State University. How many different  hats can she wear?"

Mitchell, who did not apply for the position of county manager, had fulfilled the duties of county manager in the interim since former county manager Dan McMillan's forced resignation in July 2011.
When asked to compare the end of her employment with McMillan's, Mitchell said she, "saw no warning signs," in either case.

"To put it in perspective, they're politicians. I'm not," Mitchell said. "I consider myself a professional that works in public administration. I can't play political games and do my job effectively."

"I've got to remain a professional administrator," Mitchell continued. "If they've reached the point they don't want a professional administrator, then that's the position they had to take."