The current status of the lawsuit former Greensboro Police Chief David Wray has against the City of Greensboro for $220,000 in legal fees reminds me of the old story about Momma, the matriarch of a large family, who cuts the small end of a pot roast off before cooking it.
Momma is a great cook, so all of her daughters cook a pot roast exactly the same way and all of their daughters follow suit, cutting off the small end. But one of the great granddaughters asked why they cut off the end of the pot roast. The women in the family had different theories but broke into two camps, tenderness and taste. Finally, they asked Momma, and she said it was because the pot she used when she first got married wasn’t quite big enough, so she got in the habit of cutting off the end.
That’s where the Greensboro City Council is right now with Wray. The City Council continues to refuse to pay the $220,000 in legal expenses Wray has racked up in lawsuits based on his time as police chief, but it’s not sure why.
However, the city has spent over $457,000 defending itself against the lawsuit that Wray filed to get his legal expenses paid in accordance with the city policy.
Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided in Wray’s favor on the city’s claim of sovereign immunity in the case. So now the city is left with the decision on whether to appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court and continue to run up the legal tab, or reach an agreement with Wray and be done with the legal fees defending itself against a lawsuit that nobody seems to remember why they got into in the first place.
Both City Attorney Tom Carruthers and Mayor Nancy Vaughan recently used the term “malicious” when describing why Wray’s legal fees were not paid.
Vaughan said she was quoting Carruthers and Carruthers explained to the City Council last week that he was using shorthand for the city policy and it was a poor choice of words, that what he should have said was that Wray’s actions were not covered by the policy. But Vaughan clearly thought that the city was accusing Wray of acting in a “malicious manner” or she wouldn’t have quoted him.
City Councilmember Mike Barber, who was on the City Council when the decision was made not to pay Wray’s legal expenses, said that the reason given at the time was that Wray’s activities were outside the scope of his employment, but that no one mentioned “malicious” behavior as a reason for not paying his legal fees when the original decision was made. So perhaps not everyone has forgotten, or maybe in this story Barber is “Momma.”
Barber is now in favor of settling Wray’s lawsuit and moving on.
Wray resigned as police chief amid a great deal of controversy over 10 years ago, and a previous City Council decided not to pay Wray’s legal fees even though the city has had a policy in place since 1980 to pay the legal fees for employees sued because of their work activities.
That previous City Council was really upset with Wray because they believed then City Manager Mitch Johnson, who kept telling them about all these terrible things that Wray had done, which certainly implied he was a racist.
Under Wray’s direction the Police Department supposedly had a black book with the photos of all the black police officers. According to Risk Management Associates, the consulting group that investigated the Police Department for Johnson and filed the infamous RMA report, the black book was shown to “every prostitute, every junkie, just about anybody in Greensboro or Guilford County” to try and dig up information about inappropriate activities by black Greensboro police officers.
The City Council was convinced that Wray and members of his command staff were going to be criminally indicted for these activities.
The City Council believed Johnson, but most of which he alleged has been proven false. Nobody on the command staff was indicted. The black book turned out to be a lineup book created according to department regulations for one case, and was shown to one witness who did happen to be a prostitute.
The FBI investigated the Police Department for civil rights violations and left without any charges.
The SBI investigated the Police Department for over a year and finally found a charge that was brought to trial – illegally accessing a government computer – but the charges weren’t against Wray, any member of his command staff or any captain or lieutenant in the department. They were against Police Officer Scott Sanders who was found not guilty. Charges were also filed against Sgt. Tom Fox but were dropped after Sanders was found not guilty.
That was all there was to the huge scandal that reportedly was going to send Wray and others to jail: one officer found not guilty of something that doesn’t even sound like a crime.
Ten days after Sanders was found not guilty, the City Council fired Johnson.
Johnson’s personnel records are confidential, but Councilmember Mary Rakestraw, who called for his resignation, did so moments after Sanders was found not guilty, and she did so after sitting through the trial and hearing testimony under oath about what really happened in the Police Department.
The swing vote that was needed to fire Johnson came from Councilmember Sandra Anderson Groat, who didn’t attend all the trial but did attend enough of it to change her mind.
But now that the Wray case is coming back up, Rakestraw and Groat aren’t there to explain the situation.
As it sits now, the City of Greensboro has spent $457,000 on this lawsuit. Wray is suing for $220,000 in legal fees. So if the city had chosen to pay for the attorneys that Wray had to hire to defend himself from lawsuits, the city would be $237,000 ahead.
And the truth that has been revealed is just like the pot roast – the current City Council and staff have no idea why the city ever refused to pay the legal fees in the first place.
It’s worth noting that the city paid the legal fees for Johnson when he was similarly sued, even though Johnson was fired. But the City Council refused to pay for Wray, who resigned.
Monday, August 1, the City Council will look at David Wray’s personnel file in an attempt to determine if there is anything in there to indicate why the city should not pay his legal fees.
City Councilmember Tony Wilkins asked to see the file after the word “malicious” was used to describe Wray’s behavior, a statement that has now been retracted. But Wilkins says he still wants to see the file, to look for some justification for not paying Wray’s legal fees.
On Wednesday, July 27, the Rhino Times filed a request to see the public portion of Wray’s personnel file and received the “Personnel Action History Report.” The report shows that Wray was hired on March 16, 1981 at a salary of $14,616 and received regular merit pay increases and promotions until being promoted to Greensboro Police Chief on July 30, 2003 at a salary of $105,000. Wray received a merit raise to $107,625 on Sept. 1, 2003, a merit raise to $111,930 on Sept. 1, 2004, and a raise that has different pay code from a merit raise to $115,465 on Feb. 2, 2005. Wray resigned at that salary on Jan. 9, 2006.
It is worth noting that Ed Kitchen, who promoted Wray to chief, was city manager until he retired on August 1, 2005. From the pay history it certainly appears that Kitchen thought Wray was doing a good job as police chief because he kept giving him regular raises. More information about those raises should be available in the public portion of Wray’s personnel file, but it isn’t available as we go to press.
However, it appears from interpreting the personnel information that Kitchen was satisfied with Wray, and it wasn’t until Johnson moved into the top job that Wray’s problems began.
Wray was police chief under Johnson first while Johnson was interim city manager beginning in August 2005 and then as city manager after Johnson was given the job in October 2005. By January 9, 2006, Johnson had forced Wray to resign after first locking him out of his office.
And 10 years later the repercussions of that event are still costing the city money and causing the City Council headaches.