The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 29, 2013

Princeville terminates attorney Watts

Recess meeting reconvenes without mayor, mayor pro tem


TARBORO — With two board members absent, Princeville's  board of commissioners on Friday fired town attorney Charles "Chuck" Watts Jr., during the town's reconvened meeting that was recessed a week ago.

When the commissioners returned from a closed session, Commissioner Calvin Sherrod, who presided over the meeting, made the motion to terminate Watts with the stipulation of giving him two month's retainer. Commissioners Ann Howell and Gwen Knight voted for the measure. Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and Mayor Pro Tem Isabelle Purvis-Andrews did not attend the meeting.

 After an investigative report revealed Watts was earning significantly more money than attorneys representing other towns of comparable size to Princeville, the majority of the board began questioning the town's financial obligation to Watts in light of its current financial situation.

Documentation obtained from the Fiscal Management Section indicates that North Carolina towns of approximately the same population as Princeville have median legal fees of $12,125.

The report, made by the N.C. State Auditor, revealed that Princeville budgeted $36,000 for legal fees in fiscal year 2011, but paid Watts $79,215. The report states, according to information received from the attorney, approximately $24,125 (30.4 percent) of that year’s legal fees were incurred to defend against Commissioner Knight's suit to recover a fine of $450 (three months of stipends) imposed by the board for an alleged violation of its “anti-disruption” policy.

Watts had drawn even more criticism from the majority of the board because of a letter he had written to the state auditor in response to the investigative report.  Sherrod, Howell and Knight voted against authorizing Watt's letter and its details have not been released.

Citing confidentiality of a personnel matter, neither Sherrod, Howell or Knight would comment on why Watts was fired.

The termination was the second for the Durham-based attorney who was first hired by the town in February 2010. With the same margin of votes and by the same commissioners, Watts was terminated in July 2011 and then rehired in January 2012 to replace Ward & Smith P.A., a firm that has five offices in Eastern North Carolina.

In another matter dealing with attorneys, the board voted to pay Ward & Smith P.A. and also former attorney Anthony Flanagan, for past services. Although the board voted on paying the attorneys, the payments must be approved by the Local Government Commission.

The board also unanimously approved to hire a maintenance worker, a clerk and to promote police officer Herbert Vines, Jr.  to corporal.

Completing the recessed meeting was a high priority for Sherrod. Sherrod expressed his dissatisfaction to the regularly scheduled meeting that was held April 22 when the mayor called a recess because she said Knight was out of order. She asked that Knight be removed and called for a five-minute recess.

After about 30 minutes had passed and the mayor and Purvis-Andrews were still absent from the board room, commissioners Sherrod, Howell and Knight called the meeting back in order and immediately recessed it.

"We're going to have to stop bickering and get this town on the ball," Sherrod said. "We made good progress today. We passed everything that needed to be passed. I think if we had another truckload, we would pass that, too.

"We should have done this the other night,  but we didn't have time. I hate that  we had to bring y'all out today just to pass these issues."

Town board votes 3-2 to rehire Attorney Watts



PRINCEVILLE — The Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of rehiring attorney Charles (Chuck) D. Watts Jr. during an emergency called meeting Thursday night.

The Durham attorney was fired by the same margin of votes during the town's June 2011 regular scheduled meeting.

Watt's rehiring drew mixed emotions from the divided board. Commissioner Calvin Sherrod, who cast the swing vote to fire Watts, cast another swing vote to rehire him.

"We had already ran an ad and nobody responded," Sherrod said. "We have a lot of legal issues before the board and we need an attorney. I'm in favor of him to get some of this done. That's why I voted him back in. It was nothing personal when I got rid of him and it's nothing personal that I'm bringing him back."

Isabelle Purvis-Andrews also voted to rehire Watts, while Commissioners Ann Howell and Gwen Knight voted against it. Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates broke the tie in favor of rehiring Watts.

Watts, who attended Thursday's meeting, will replace the law firm of Ward & Smith P.A., the same law firm that replaced Watts when he was fired in July.

After the board voted in favor of hiring him, Watts was immediately put to work.  The mayor called for another closed session to discuss personnel matters. No action was taken during the close session, the mayor reported.

However, Watts was back at work.  

"I'm happy that I was asked to come back to see if I can help the town with their objectives," Watts said. "I have to go back and look and see what was done by the previous firm. What I understand, not much was completed. I think I had a grounding in most of the questions that were addressed. There were a couple of new ones that I did not have any involvement in. I will deal with them too."

According to a press release, Watts Law was retained on a flat fee basis designed to limit attorney's fees charged to the town. He will not take on any litigation matters for the town.

"His primary focus will be to assist the town in areas involving revenue generation as well as compliance with the state statutes, investigation of corruption matters and ethics," said Everett-Oates.

(I'm) extremely happy to have Chuck assist the town and believe that he is extremely well qualified to do the work of the town."

Howell and Knight disagree. They had a history of confrontations with him during Watts' previous stint. Both of the commissioners were thrown out of meetings due to a policy that he drew up. They weren't pleased with the rehire.

"This was all a set up — it was planned," Howell said after she explained that she was not informed about what was on the agenda. "When we asked (Town Manager) Victor (Marrow) about the agenda today, he said he could not give us one because she (Mayor Everette-Oates) did not provide him with one. Yet, when we come in tonight, here he comes. Then they voted right then to bring him on. Its a set up."

Knight said, "That's their friend and they want him to do what they want him to do.

I feel like it's unfair because he doesn't care for Commissioner Howell and myself."

According to a press release, Watts has been a lawyer for 25 years. He has a Master in Business Administration. He graduated from UNC with an undergraduate degree in economics.

In February 2010, Princeville hired Watts to replace Attorney Anthony Flanagan, who served the town for more than four years.

About his second stint with the town Watts said, "It's going to be a challenge to serve the entire board."