In a highly unusual move, Town Manager Peter Rascoe chose to announce his Sept. 1 retirement through The Coastland Times, which published a front-page story today, rather than first inform the people he has served for the past nine years through the Town’s website.
Mr. Rascoe, 62, gave the Southern Shores Town Council formal notice of his retirement last Friday afternoon, according to an informed source. His last day on the job will be Aug. 16. He has four years remaining on his employment contract.
Knowing about newspaper copy deadlines and judging from the length and detail of Coastland Times reporter Philip S. Ruckle Jr.’s above-the-fold article, The Beacon doubts that Mr. Rascoe’s tip to The Times came after his formal notice. Mr. Rascoe has long favored The Coastland Times as his local-media outlet for news dissemination.
Interestingly, The Times did not feature the story, headlined “Southern Shores Town Manager Announces Retirement,” on its online version or mention it on its Facebook page. The Beacon found it on the newsstand.
Mr. Ruckle also did not provide an explanation in his flattering tribute piece for the timing of Mr. Rascoe’s retirement, whose notice coincided with the termination of the Town Council candidate filing period.
Three of the five positions on the Southern Shores Town Council are subject to election in November. As The Beacon has previously reported, four candidates have filed.
In fact, Mr. Ruckle’s article contained no critical comment about Mr. Rascoe’s tenure as the top Town staff member. It was a career retrospective generously sprinkled with quotes by Mr. Rascoe.
Although he has never publicly discussed his retirement, Mr. Rascoe presumably has been grooming Town Planning Director Wes Haskett as his successor.
Mr. Haskett was promoted to Deputy Town Manager, effective with the start of fiscal year 2018-19, and has undergone formal training during the past year.
Neither state law nor town ordinance requires the Town to publicly advertise the town manager’s position, but municipalities that do not advertise and open positions up to outside candidates run a risk of being accused of discrimination. (See commentary by the UNC-CH School of Government at https://canons.sog.unc.edu/do-we-have-to-advertise-this-position/.)
THE COST TO THE TOWN
Inasmuch as The Coastland Times has thoroughly covered the biography of Mr. Rascoe, a Bertie County native, attorney, and 30-year member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, The Beacon will address a more controversial point: His compensation.
Mr. Rascoe signed a contract with the Town on May 10, 2010, three months after Mayor Hal Denny and the then-Town Council “accepted the resignation” of Town Manager Charles B. Read Jr. after they returned from a closed session at a Town Council meeting.
Police Chief David Kole was appointed interim town manager, with a salary increase, and served until Mr. Rascoe started June 9, 2010. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2010-02-02.pdf.)
Mr. Read’s forced resignation was never publicly explained by Mayor Denny or any other Town official. Mr. Rascoe came to Southern Shores from Chowan County, where he had been county attorney and then county manager.
Mr. Rascoe’s starting annual salary was $109,500, plus $36,187 in benefits, according to personnel records that The Beacon obtained through a public record request earlier this year. His contract term was for three years, the termination date set for July 1, 2013.
After his hiring, Mr. Rascoe made a rapid financial ascent. The records show that in nine years, his salary increased about 50 percent.
A year after the new town manager started, the Town Council approved a 10 percent raise, bringing Mr. Rascoe’s salary up to $120,000 (plus $39,902 in benefits), effective July 1, 2011. The Council voted 4-1 in favor of the increase, with Councilman Kevin Stroud dissenting. (Mayor Denny was joined by Councilwoman Jodi Hess and Councilmen Jim Pfizenmayer and George Kowalski. See June 21, 2011 meeting minutes at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2011-06-21.pdf.)
Mr. Rascoe received a roughly 7 percent increase in his annual salary just a year later when the Town Council unanimously voted on Aug. 21, 2012, to raise his compensation to $128,000 (plus $40,419 in benefits), retroactive to July 1, 2012. This time Mayor Denny, Mrs. Hess, and Mr. Kowalski were joined by new Council members, David Sanders and Larry Lawhon, in approving the increase. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2012-08-21.pdf.)
On June 18, 2013 the same five Council members voted unanimously to extend Mr. Rascoe’s contract five years, until June 30, 2018. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Minutes_2013-06-18.pdf.) His salary was increased to $135,095, which included both a merit-based raise and a cost-of-living adjustment, plus $42,606 in benefits.
All three of these employment actions occurred at the end of a Town Council meeting after the Council had returned from a closed session during which it had discussed a “personnel matter.” After voting either to increase or to extend Mr. Rascoe’s contract, the Council adjourned.
It has been The Beacon’s experience that after the Town Council concludes its regular business and moves to go into closed session, the public disperses. The Beacon would speculate that these motions were made and approved without an audience, save for Town staff.
In a highly controversial move, the Town Council, under new Mayor Tom Bennett, decided just a year later—on July 1, 2014—that five years were insufficient reward for the Town Manager’s service. This Council, which now included Leo Holland, who had run unopposed for Mr. Kowalski’s seat, when the latter ran for mayor, extended Mr. Rascoe’s contract 10 years, retroactive to July 1, 2013.
Mayor Bennett was conspicuously absent from the July 1, 2014 meeting when the Town Council unanimously approved the 10-year contract extension to June 30, 2023. Instead, Mrs. Hess presided as mayor pro tem.
This time, instead of going into closed session and returning to make a motion in open session, before an empty room, the Town Council approved Mr. Rascoe’s 10-year extension as a matter of the consent agenda! (Other items on that agenda included approval of the June 17, 2014 minutes and a resolution about surplus Town property.)
The Beacon well remembers the furor over this unprecedented action that was executed in clandestine fashion. Using the consent agenda to make such a fundamental personnel decision was beyond inappropriate. It was audaciously objectionable.
The next year, Mrs. Hess, Mr. Sanders, and Mr. Lawhon lost their bids for reelection, in large part because of the Town Council’s lack of transparency.
The records show that Town Manager Rascoe has been compensated as follows:
FY 2014-15: $138,472 plus $48,315 in benefits
FY 2015-16: $141,934 plus $50,506 in benefits
FY 2016-17: $145,482 plus $53,245 in benefits
FY 2017-18: $147,664 plus $54,166 in benefits
FY 2018-19: $151,356 plus $55,587 in benefits
FY 2019-20: $155,139 (estimated), plus roughly $57,000 in benefits [The Beacon’s public record request was submitted in February, before the increased salaries for FY 2019-20 were available. Every employee received a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase.]
The Beacon hopes that, going forward, the Town will be open, transparent, and beyond reproach about its intentions and its actions in regard to filling and funding the town manager’s position.
We also trust that the Town will advertise the position publicly and have the new Town Council that is elected in November, not the current lame-duck Council, make the ultimate hiring decision.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 21, 2019