On Tuesday, May 14, the Summerfield Town Council met and Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham was clearly displeased with one move made toward the end of the meeting – a vote to amend Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker’s contract to increase the severance pay he gets from six months to a year, and to do the same with his benefits.
The move to amend the contract was approved by Summerfield Town Councilmembers John O’Day, Reece Walker and Dena Barnes and was opposed by Councilmember Teresa Pegram as well as by Dunham, who doesn’t get a vote unless there’s a tie.
The town and the town council have been sharply divided over Whitaker and many other issues for the past two years and this move infuriated Dunham, who issued a press release just past midnight – right after the meeting. That release was titled. “Scott Whitaker gets lavish amendment to his manager contract!”
It read, “At the end of the Summerfield town meeting, John O’Day, Reece Walker and Dena Barnes voted to amend Scott Whitaker’s manager contract to increase his severance pay from six months to ONE YEAR of pay, plus benefits, in case Whitaker is terminated without cause.”
Dunham added that the three councilmembers also gave Scott Whitaker a 3 percent pay increase. She added that, over the years, Whitaker has been given annual pay raises of 3 percent to 8 percent per year.
“The six-month severance pay was put in Whitaker’s first contract when his pay was $72,000 a year in 2012,” Dunham wrote. “Now his pay and benefits are $150,000 a year – base pay about $110,000+, plus taxpayer-paid terrific health, life, vision, dental, and orthodontic insurance, 3 percent match for 401K, government pension, sick pay, vacation and more.”
Dunham also complained that Whitaker would “self-determine how much of his vacation pay was unused and also increase the severance.”
Unused sick time increases his retirement, Dunham stated.
The mayor wrote, “If Whitaker worked a small part of the year [and] took severance including benefits, this could easily be $200,000 or more, and easily 50 percent of the Summerfield property taxes paid for one year.”
Dunham stated that this move is “not fair to the good hard working people of Summerfield, and does not reflect what is supposed to be our limited services government.”
She added, “Summerfield is considered a small town with limited services. In fact, the town provides no essential services. Police, fire, schools and Guilford County are all other government agencies.”
Each year in Summerfield, town taxpayers shell out about $426,000 in property taxes, and the town collects about $130,000 in sales tax. Dunham argued that the severance pay could take a big chunk of the county’s money.
“Whitaker won the lottery – only it is taxpayer money – and a terrible way to treat the people,” she wrote. “John O’Day and Reece Walker even wanted a two-year severance pay. O’Day, Walker and Barnes made clear that they feel Scott Whitaker is perfect. Yet they said they had to increase his severance as he may have a hard time getting another manager job.”
Dunham, a constant critic of the manager, stated that Whitaker didn’t complete the town’s Development Ordinance for seven years, does not comply with some of his contract requirements, has no job description and she also said that town doesn’t have enough money for the multi-million dollar projects that he started.
While Dunham and Pegram are big critics of Whitaker, the manager also has those who think very highly of his work – as was made clear by the three town council members who voted on Tuesday night to make it a lot harder for the town to fire him. This council clearly would never do that, however, there is an election in November that could completely change the nature of the Summerfield Town Council.