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Interim Rural Hall town manager resigns amid continuing turmoil.
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Interim Rural Hall town manager resigns amid continuing turmoil.

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The interim manager for the Town of Rural Hall resigned Wednesday, two days after State Treasurer Dale Folwell called for an investigation into the town’s finances and one day after a municipal election brought two new members to the town council.

And Frank James’ resignation comes two weeks after three members of the Rural Hall Town Council abruptly quit, along with Town Manager Megan M. Garner and Town Attorney D. Barrett Burge. The three members cited conflicts among elected officials and what they called unfounded allegations and harassment against Garner.

Robbie Wagoner II, the town’s administrative assistant, confirmed Thursday that James had resigned.

James was appointed interim town manager after Garner resigned. It’s a job he’s familiar with because he was Rural Hall’s town manager for 38 years before he retired in 2017. Garner took his place.

James could not be reached for comment Thursday. A phone number associated with James was disconnected. Mayor Tim Flinchum did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

James had not responded to an emailed public records request that the Winston-Salem Journal sent on Monday. The Journal asked for Garner’s resignation letter and a settlement agreement that gave Garner a six-figure severance package. Three council members out of four — John McDermon, Ricky Plunkett and Jesse Stigall — voted to approve that package at a meeting on Oct. 21. A fourth council member, Susan Gordon, voted against the agreement.

Town officials have not provided a copy of the settlement agreement, saying it is marked confidential. They said they want a judge to decide whether to release it.

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At that same meeting in October, McDermon, Plunkett, Stigall and Garner all resigned. Burge also resigned but didn’t give a specific reason for why he was leaving. Town Clerk Dora K. Moore also resigned on Oct. 13, saying she was taking another position. Her last day was Oct. 27. Since then, a new town clerk has been appointed.

The day after the Oct. 21 meeting, the Graham City Council approved a contract with Garner to become that city’s manager. She was paid an annual salary of $111,514 as Rural Hall’s town manager. As city manager in Graham, she will be paid $120,000 a year, according to the contract.

Folwell announced Monday that he wants State Auditor Beth Wood to investigate the town’s financial statements because of allegations about $1.5 million going missing from the town’s coffers. Josh Love, a spokesman for Wood’s office, said it is policy to neither confirm nor deny whether Wood’s office is conducting an investigation.

Christina Howell, spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, has said there is no criminal investigation and no charges have been filed.

On Tuesday, Terry Bennett and Eddie Horn, who had been appointed to fill the remaining terms of Plunkett and Stigall, officially won the seats in the town’s municipal election. Plunkett and Stigall did not actively campaign after they resigned, though their names remained on the ballot. The seat held by McDermon, which is up for election in 2023, remains unfilled.

Randolph James, the interim town attorney, filed a document in Forsyth Superior Court on Oct. 26, alleging that McDermon, Plunkett and Stigall violated state law in approving the settlement for Garner. McDermon, Plunkett and Stigall denied those allegations in a letter to the editor published in the Journal on Tuesday.

Frank James and Randolph James are not related.

Among the allegations, Randolph James said that McDermon, Plunkett and Stigall held illegal meetings in violation of the state’s open meetings law about the agreement. James also alleged that the town’s finance director never got a chance to pre-audit the agreement to make sure there was enough money in the budget to pay for it. And, Randolph James said, the town was not obligated to provide Garner with any severance since she took another job.

Randolph James said in the document that he intends to file a lawsuit by Nov. 15, the same day Garner is scheduled to start her job in Graham. The lawsuit would seek at least $25,000 in damages for breaches of fiduciary duty.

336-727-7326

@mhewlettWSJ

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