Former High Point City Manager Greg Demko is no longer city manager.
Though the intense debate surrounding his exit took place behind closed doors, and though some city officials are pushing a “Nothing to see here folks” story, there was unquestionably plenty to see and hear when the High Point City Council went into closed session on Friday, May 22 before voting 6-to-3 to accept Demko’s resignation.
In fact, though it is called a “closed session,” it wasn’t totally closed. At one point in the session, the no-sound audio feed was interrupted for about five seconds and sound from the meeting room was accidentally broadcast. Amazingly, at that one instant, the voice that can be heard is that of the High Point city attorney saying, “Oh my God, what a cluster…”
She didn’t complete her thought, but anyone with a working knowledge of English language idioms can discern the meaning. From the sound of the remark, she may have been speaking to herself or to someone near her, but, regardless, the comment sheds a great deal of light on the actual nature of Demko’s departure and it is indicative of the controversy the move created in High Point. Prominent High Point citizens are saying privately it was a “coup” pulled off by some council members and some High Point city staff.
In fact, the Friday, May 22 closed session of the High Point City Council, was the 15th closed session held to discuss the personnel issue since December when a new City Council took office.
The High Point Enterprise published an article late last year on the historic nature of the new City Council because, for the first time, the council had four African-American councilmembers serving together. Some sources in High Point who asked not to be identified said that racial elements did come into play in the complex series of events that led to Demko’s departure.
In April, the High Point City Council held a closed session that lasted five hours and involved outside attorneys.
Demko’s exit was a surprise to many, but the battle between Demko and some council members and staff has been the talk on the grapevine for a while. Earlier this month, for instance, after a Guilford County government meeting, a group of Guilford County officials were “gossiping” intently about the effort by some in High Point government to oust the manager.
High Point leaders who worked with Demko had praise for what he did for the city during his five-year tenure as manager.
Former High Point Mayor Bill Bencini, who worked extensively with Demko, said he was sorry to see Demko go because he had done a great deal for High Point. Bencini said Demko was very professional and a very important force in the downtown revitalization effort that brought a new baseball stadium and new life to a neglected downtown.
Former High Point City Councilmember Latimer Alexander also said this is a big loss for High Point. He said Demko was a “great manager.”
Alexander added that this is the worst time for something like this because the city needs to adopt a new budget and the foundation of that is always the manager’s proposed budget – but now, he said, the City Council doesn’t have a proposed budget or the manager who would typically have already presented the recommended budget.
“It’s highly irregular to dismiss a manager before a budget is adopted,” Alexander said.
Alexander also said it was his understanding that “This council wants to establish their own direction.”
While the official story only conveys that Demko resigned, for what it’s worth, the rumors in High Point tell a complex story of palace intrigue in which a city employee who got a less than positive job performance review from the manager got the ball rolling against him – which ultimately resulted in a collection of complaints that two sources said had to do with a stance that he wasn’t being proactive enough on minority hiring practices along with other issues of contention.