The High Point City Council voted 6-to-3 last month to accept the resignation of former High Point City Manager Greg Demko, but the main players have shed virtually no light on what led to that resignation.
However, Guilford County Commissioner Carlvena Foster, who represents High Point and is closely connected with the city’s government, did provide insight into the separation this week.
The departure of Demko was very controversial, with some of the opinion that the former manager was essentially forced out and with others maintaining that his departure was a mutual decision.
Foster said it was the latter.
She began with some praise for Demko.
“I personally like Greg,” Foster said this week. “I had a good relationship with Greg. Whenever I called him, he responded. Whatever I needed, he provided for me.”
She also said that, up until Demko left, she’d been communicating with him about budget matters.
“We were talking back and forth about the county dollars that whole week,” Foster said, adding that she had also spoken with City Council members.
“I talked to the council people,” she said.
After a new High Point City Council took control of the city’s leadership in late 2019, the council held a staggering 15 closed sessions over a six-month period to address the situation with Demko.
After Demko resigned as city manager, High Point Mayor Jay Wagner put out a statement that provided zero new information. It merely said that Demko had resigned on Friday, May 22 and added, “The City thanks Mr. Demko for his service to the organization and our community and wishes him well in his future endeavors.”
Foster was more forthcoming this week. She said the High Point City Council was not trying to force Demko to step down.
“What I understand is that there were some issues that he and council didn’t see eye to eye on, but the intent was not to terminate him – he did make that decision on his own,” said Foster. “They didn’t go in there with that intention.”
“They were going to do some – for lack of a better word – some reprimanding, or put some things in place,” she said. “But that he, if he didn’t agree with those …”
Apparently, based on the outcome, Demko did not agree with the things the City Council wanted to put in place.
“So that was his decision to say, ‘I’m not going to do these things that you’re asking me to do, so I’ll just resign,’’” Foster said. “So my understanding is that their intent was not to give him an ultimatum – just to say, ‘These are some things that we want done, and, either you’re going to do it this way – or you’re going to face some consequences.’ But the consequences, from my understanding, were not immediate termination.”
The biggest mystery, given this account of events, is the $205,000 in free and clear money that the City Council handed Demko on the way out the door. Most people who go to their boss or bosses and say, “I’m resigning,” don’t get the response: “We hate to hear that – here’s a year’s pay.”
The council also allowed Demko to keep a large bonus that he had previously been given to keep him on as manager.
“There were just going to be some consequences, so he decided I’m just going to leave – and this is what I want when I leave,” Foster said. “I want my salary and I won’t my bonus. If they were going in with the intent to either/or, then they were not going to give him that money. You know, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Of course, one big question that remains unanswered is why the High Point City Council felt compelled to give Demko that money given that he was choosing to resign.
Foster said Demko’s attitude was, “Well, I think I can resign, then this is what I want.”
She said there were two main issues.
“There was a personnel issue and then there was another issue,” she said.
“What I heard is that they went into the closed session with an intent to iron out these issues,” she said.
Several sources have said that some members of the High Point City Council did not feel Demko was proactive enough on several issues involving race. For instance, they thought that he didn’t devote enough resources to promoting minority hiring or to implementing a program meant to reduce gun violence in the city – a program that was greatly encouraged by some black leaders.
Foster said the City Council felt High Point needed a new direction.
“I think the agenda is be more proactive when it comes to equality and economic development across the city,” Foster said, adding that they bring “a different voice” because they represent a different segment of the community.
“They support downtown and revitalization but, in addition to downtown and revitalization, there has to be more things in core city,” she said.
Foster also said that, in this case at least, all’s well that ends well.
“The bottom line is, he didn’t lose – they paid him a year’s salary,” she said.