Carolina Beach Terminates Town Manager's Employment Contract

Lucky Narain. Lucky Narain.

Carolina Beach Terminates Town Manager's Employment Contract Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 12 June 2019 14:29

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council held a public hearing at their June 11th, meeting to hear public input on the proposed 2019-2020 budget that must be adopted prior to July 1st as required by State Law.

Ultimately, the Council voted four to one to terminate the employment contract for Town Manager Lucky Narain.

Narain was out of Town on vacation and the Council were concerned they were not looking at his most recent budget proposal.

That concern led to some on Council questioning the entire budget planning process and the performance of the Town Manager who was hired in February of this year as a replacement for former Town Manager Michael Cramer. The Council previously had issues with the budget planning process carried out by Cramer.

At one point, Councilman Steve Shuttleworth recommended hiring someone else to work on the budget in the interest of meeting the needs of the Town and the desires of the majority of the Council.

Shuttleworth did not name who that individual would be, but said it was someone who had worked on the Town's budget in the past.

The Council expressed concerns on numerous issues including pay increases for cost of living as well as merit pay increases based on employee performance. Other issues of concern were a proposed property tax rate increase in terms of how much money would be returned to the Town's reserve fund (Similar to a savings fund for unexpected expenses or funding the Town following a natural disaster such as a hurricanes in order to continue paying employees and covering expenses when revenue is impacted).

Narain began working for the Town on February 25th, 2019.

The Town announced Thursday January 3rd, the Council selected Narain as Town Manager. Narain was serving as Senior Manager for the City of Hayward, CA.

According to a release issued by the Town, "As Carolina Beach’s top administrator, he will assume responsibility for the daily operations of the Town, including approximately 117 employees and a $25 million budget.  He fills the position left vacant by the September 2018 termination of former Town Manager, Michael Cramer."
During the three-month recruitment process, 41 applicants applied for the Town Manager position, and six people were selected as finalists. Four of the six candidates selected were interviewed. The Town Manager Search Committee included all members of the Town Council, the Director of Human Resources, Town Clerk, Town Attorney, and Interim Town Manager.  Town Council unanimously picked Mr. Narain as their first choice. 

According to the release issued by the Town on January 3rd, "In addition to serving in the City of Hayward, Mr. Narain has served in the City of Richmond, California, and in the Judge Advocate General Corps as a Special Advisor in the US Army at Moffett Field, California.  He holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Christopher Newport University, a master’s in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and is a graduate of Fordham Law School.  Mr. Narain holds a license to practice law in both New York and New Jersey. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer and speaks and writes fluently in Spanish.  Mr. Narain has family in Wilmington and is excited to be a part of the Carolina Beach community."

Narain's starting salary was $120,000 a year with health insurance benefits.

Under the terms of Narain's employment contract, the Council's decision to terminate his employment means he will receive six months of severance pay.

During the June 11th, meeting, Council had questions about the budget proposal under review during the meeting. Some members questioned the numbers compared to previous proposals. The Council spent considerable time during the meeting questioning staff members whether the proposal they were reviewing was the most current or a previous version. After pausing during the meeting to confirm what presentation they were actually reviewing, some members expressed concern with the overall budget process.

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said he was concerned with a variation in the figures from one version of the budget to the one under review during the meeting.

Shuttleworth expressed a desire to hire "a third party" to come in an finish the budget planning process.

Following additional deliberations and debate, the Council held a closed session.

Following that closed session, Mayor Joe Benson made a motion, "That we move to terminate the contract of the Town Manager. All those in favor?"

That motion passed four to one with Mayor Benson and Council members Steve Shuttleworth, JoDan Garza and Leann Pierce voting in favor and Councilman Tom Bridges voting "no".

Shuttleworth made a motion to designate Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin as Interim Town Manager and, "Direct Mr. Parvin to seek assistance from the League of Municipalities for some assistance and potentially a third party to finish the budget."

The motion passed by a majority and the meeting was recessed to Friday June 14th at 6pm at Town Hall.

Narain sent a statement to the Gazette on Wednesday morning in response to a request for comment.

Narain wrote:

Hi, my name is Lucky Narain. Most recently I served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina. As a Town Manager and a public servant, I was dedicated to doing the best I could to benefit the public, manage a staff approximately 120 employees, and oversee a near 25 million dollar budget. Sometimes the vision of those individuals who appoint us into office change. Sometimes political dynamics create riptides. It’s all part of the process and the profession.

There was no failure here. No laws were broken. No deadlines were missed. No policies were violated. The budget was still in process and was on a positive track. Various Council Members told me so. With the proposed budget no money was allocated to be taken from the General Fund to pass the budget, as in years prior to my arrival. In fact, the Council was still deciding on very few elements to refine the balanced budget. These elements included, for example, presenting me the exact amounts for employee compensation (COLA/merit percentages) and how much to return into the General Fund.

At issue were political dynamics. Specifically, the dynamics involved in addressing concerns with a police department that has experienced tremendous difficulties in recent years. These were present long before I joined the Town. My short tenure was not enough to make the positive difference I had hoped for. For example, I participated in the comprehensive selection process to fill numerous police officer vacancies. We chose to recruit four superiorly qualified candidates. Unfortunately, from a lesser qualified candidate I experienced harassment, slander, and a negative media campaign that I imagine Town Council was not able to ignore.

Serving on the Town Council is a tremendous responsibility and I have grown fond of the Council. I have come to value and respect their drive, determination, and passion for public service. I applaud them for the work they do and empathize with the pressures they deal with and the riptides they navigate through.To the extent that I am able to assist the Town of Carolina Beach in the future, I look forward to doing so.

In service,

Respectfully,
Lucky Narain

Narain also sent an email to Town employees which stated:

For a guy that doesn’t care much for drama...last night was colossal. If you didn’t know, last night our Town Council terminated my employment contract. With any innovation or successful program it’s how we rebound, pivot, and adapt to change that will define us.  As we close out this chapter of Carolina Beach and begin the next one, I wish you much success.  Change - particularly organizational change - isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding when we are open to it.  I’m not sure where this change will take me, but I hear the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office is hiring ;-)
It’s been an honor working with you.
Best,
Lucky

Narain also sent an email to Town Department Heads which stated:

Hi All,
Woah. Well that was a roller coaster of a ride, right?
Council has not yet provided direction on where they are at with COLA/MERIT/401K.  How can we finalize a budget without this information? Last we all chatted in our staff meeting, various members wanted to reduce it even more, but the Council meeting before last night indicated we were heading in the right direction and only needed minor tweaks.  As a result, it’s clear that this isn’t about the budget.  It’s about politics and the PAC letter.
I very much enjoyed getting to work with you all.  I’m hopeful that all of the collaboration we have done isn’t wasted. I hope the longevity pay isn’t taken away.  I hope the pay inequity is addressed.  But, most of all I hope that ya’ll continue to work as a team to get through yet another leadership change. You are awesome and I know you will get through the next chapter of Carolina Beach just fine.
I’m on this trip that was planned years ago and just dropped the news to my family when I learned of it. I’ll let you imagine how that went down.  Could be worse though.
It’s been an honor working with you.
Best wishes and be strong!
Lucky

Town Manager Responds To Police Advisory Committee Letter

The Carolina Beach Police Advisory Committee sent a letter to the Town Council on June 4th expressing concerns with a reduced number of officers, hiring protocols and other issues.

On Monday June 10th, the Town Council and Town Manager issued a response to that letter on the Town's Facebook page.

The Council responded, "Residents, Below this short, you will find the Town Manager’s rebuttal to a letter which the Police Advisory Committee (PAC) wrote and disseminated last week. Bottom line: the PAC letter is littered with inaccuracies and misleading statements. Point by point, the Town Manager corrects the record, singling out each false or misleading claim."

The statement read, "Underlying the Town Manager’s frustration is the PAC’s deliberate choice not to arrange a meeting with him for the purpose of gathering facts and, along the way, gaining insight into the Town Manager’s responsibilities. Meeting with Lucky would have short-circuited the unnecessary drama which followed, drama which created a firestorm on social media."

The Council explained, "We, the Town Council, the Town Manager and his staff - treasure the many citizens who volunteer their time, talents and, quite often, their treasure serving on our advisory committees. Over the years, our many committees have provided outstanding advice, recommendations on solving challenging problems and innovative ideas and concepts, many of which have made our town an even better place to call home and to come visit."

The Council explained, "But an advisory committee’s purpose is just that—to advise. The Town Manager and town staff are not compelled to enact every committee recommendation. Advice and suggested courses of action will always be welcomed. In the end, however, the Town Manager, in concert with his department heads, will make the final call, whether that’s a decision on a project, a recommendation to Council seeking a legislative outcome, or a decision on hiring. In closing, we kindly request that you take the time to read the Town Manager’s response to the PAC letter. As your elected officials, we are proud to serve you and we will maintain the transparency you’ve come to know and will always deserve."

Town Manager Lucky Narain sent a response to the Committee on Monday. The following is his response:

While the police department is struggling with multiple issues, this letter primarily addresses the recent interview process for an officer candidate, herein referred to as The Candidate. PAC represents statements made in the letter, and TM represents the Town Manager’s response to those statements.

PAC: The Candidate, along with other candidates, completed an in-person interview before the hiring committee. All candidates were scored by each member of the committee and subsequently ranked based on their cumulative scores. Subsequent to the interviews The Candidate was notified that he would not be considered for employment because he had scored the lowest among the interviewed candidates.

TM: The weeks prior to me on-boarding were chock full of administrative issues within the police department. The issues were complex. You might say they represented a veritable hurricane of events resulting in a number of officers leaving before my start date. There may have been systemic issues within the organization that created the situation resulting in their departure. As the Chief Administrative Officer for the Town and consistent with the authorities of the office of Town Manager, I sought direct involvement with all police officer hires and promotions. I created my own un-biased and entirely neutral ranking. I had zero knowledge of a committee ranking throughout my ranking process.

PAC: Seeking clarification, The Candidate made multiple calls to our Town Manager, leaving messages and requesting a return call. After several attempts at contacting the Town Manager went unanswered, The Candidate called town hall as “a citizen” and requested a meeting with the Town Manager. Ironically, this resulted in a meeting the next day.

TM: It’s my understanding, and consistent with general human resource practices - the Town is not obligated to explain the reasons as to why an applicant was not selected.

PAC: During this meeting The Candidate was again told that the reason he was passed over was that his score was well below the other candidates. When the Candidate questioned the accuracy of the Town Manager’s claim, a police department Captain was called-in
to confirm the scoring. The Captain refuted the Town Manager’s representation, confirming that not only had The Candidate not scored the lowest, he had scored the highest, and by a significant margin.

TM: FALSE/MISLEADING: A Committee’s ranking is not the conclusive element in a hiring decision. The PAC ranking may be one of many elements considered in the hiring of a person. The Town Manager’s ranking is the de facto ranking of the organization – not the PAC.

PAC: This should not be news to any council members, as you have received numerous calls and texts regarding these questionable happenings. Who did the Town Manager receive the incorrect information from? Our leadership is hired with the expectation of honesty and integrity, surely, he would not intentionally present false results to a very qualified candidate? After further consideration, The Candidate was eventually offered employment; an offer he accepted.

TM: FALSE/MISLEADING: Police officer candidates are offered conditional letters of employment. The offer of employment is contingent upon an applicant successfully passing all phases of screening process.

PAC: The Candidate was well qualified and was a former CB Officer who was ready to come back. It is our impression that both CBPD and Chief Spivey were excited to have this officer joining the CBPD, especially considering The Candidate was a trained LEO and former CB officer, and would therefore be able to be effective in an expedited timeframe. There were no issues with hiring him before, therefore the whole process around The Candidate’s experience gives an appearance of impropriety.

TM: MISLEADING: Previous applications to the Town are not weighted and are not generally a significant factor in the re-hiring of that individual. No one is entitled to work for the Town because they have worked for the Town in the past.

PAC: Unfortunately, a few days before The Candidate’s projected start date on Monday, May 27, he received a call saying that “something had come up” and he would not be hired. No other explanation was offered. Not only should applicants be able to rely on a transparent and fair hiring process, if an applicant does fall short in a given area, they should be given the reason they failed to meet our hiring standards. Our PD administration should be able to hire good qualified candidates without their hands being restricted by staff unqualified in law enforcement.

TM: “Hands being restricted by staff unqualified in law enforcement” is a charged statement. I have personal experience working in law enforcement oversight as a civilian, as an attorney, and a military officer. The Town’s HR Director and Town Attorney have experience with law enforcement related administrative issues. Is the expectation that the Town Manager, HR Director, and Town Attorney have some other qualifying law enforcement experience? What about members of the PAC given that they create a ranking? How exactly is calling candidates to personally inform them that they would not be hired not fair? Would having an applicant wait for an automatically generated rejection letter be more fair or transparent? The expectation addressed of a fair and transparent hiring process is noted. To the extent members of the community and the PAC have recommendations on improving processes and/or practices in the Town, we would happily evaluate them for legality in accordance with North Carolina law and consider adopting them. As I do with staff, I would also encourage any member of the public interested in this course of action to do some research. If there is a problem, come to me with some solutions…. Are there any other municipalities in NC that are doing what you propose? How long have they been doing it? Does it work? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) involved in implementing this course of action? And, if there is a cost associated with the training and implementation of the change – where does/should that money come from?

PAC: In addition to issues with The Candidate, we believe Council is aware of broader problems within the police department, and potentially with the HR Departments interaction with the Police Department. Why then; is this Council unwilling to address issues of this level of importance, including the manner The Candidate was treated? If we allow these issues and actions to stand, where will it stop? Who will be the next person lied to or mistreated? We do not want to believe that this Council feels it is okay to falsify test results, lie to applicants and otherwise jerk an applicant around by offering them a job, only to retract the offer, but neither have we seen any effort on the part of any council member to intervene.

TM: FALSE: “Council feels it is okay to falsify test results…” What test results were falsified? Who exactly is being accused of falsifying results? What lies are being referenced? There is a difference between not understanding processes or different ranking lists and being lied to. Candidates throughout various industries and organizations are frequently extended conditional offers of employment. To have those offers rescinded during the screening process is not jerking an applicant around.

PAC: As you know, our police department is severely under-staffed. Over the Memorial Day Weekend, we had 3 officers patrolling per shift; our normal is 5 officers per shift. It takes 3+ months from the first interview to get a qualified candidate in uniform and on the street. Since January 2018, we have lost 14 officers related to conflicts and operational concerns within town hall, including conflicts between the officers and the HR Director. Twelve of the fourteen officers left because they were displeased with working conditions for various reasons; the other 2 were forced out by either resignation or firing as well as both of our K-9 officers. One of these officers was our Carolina Beach Elementary Resource Officer and promises were made to the parents and students that were never kept.

TM: FALSE: Although still an alarmingly high number, the actual count for the time referenced is 12. The stated reasons are hearsay and are inconsistent with staff information.

PAC: To add to our community’s loss, as a direct result of losing officers, the Bike Rodeo has been cancelled and we suspect National Family Night Out may be next on the list. We are going backwards – not forwards. With regards to the two K-9s we retired earlier this year due to their handlers leaving the CBPD, one of those K9s will be starting as a working K-9 with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s office in the next few days. Both K-9s were retired and sold to their respective handlers for $1. The K-9s cost the taxpayers $12k each plus the costs of training and equipping. BCSO will be putting a K-9 to work at the expense of Carolina Beach taxpayers because no contract was written to keep the handlers from putting them to work elsewhere.

TM: FALSE

PAC: It was also brought to our attention that recently all members of the CBPD were called in for a mandatory meeting with the new Town Manager. During this meeting the officers were directed not to communicate with PAC members or Council. They were made to run PT as a “readiness” activity. Some were in full gear and others where here on their day off after working the previous night shift. What experience does our TM have that would warrant him personally directing our officers’ actions? Where was the chain of command when this happened? It has been confirmed the TM has since apologized to some present due to the inappropriateness of this requirement.

TM: MISLEADING: Qualifications already stated above. The state of the PD already discussed above. The community wants leadership. When leadership is exercised, it’s questioned. It’s confusing. The Town of Carolina Beach has a fair number of security concerns. The extremely close proximity to one the premier ammunition facilities in the world, coastal hurricane threats, increased violent activity in surrounding jurisdictions, an exponential population growth during tourist season, (potentially rogue alligators-kidding) etc. Every good leader (esp. with military experience) taking over a paramilitary
organization with security concerns of this magnitude will want to immediately test the emergency alert roster – particularly in a situation where staffing shortages exist. Is the roster up to date? Does it work? Are there any deficiencies that we need to address? These are all questions that it’s better to address sooner rather than later. The chain of command was present – and, I was there. Getting into the nuances of leadership strategy and management techniques – it seems is outside the scope of the inquiry. Suffice it to say – I was very impressed with the response time and the caliber of talent in the Police Department.

PAC: When we lose 14 officers in a short timeframe – we would think both the Town Manager and you, our council members, would be hyper-vigilant in your efforts to establish WHY and how to make corrections, yet that does not appear to be the case. It should be noted that most of the officers who left took pay cuts at their new positions. Contrary to the narrative, it’s not all about money.

TM: MISLEADING: Career growth opportunities equate to money. Is it true that the officer that left took pay cuts? Was overall compensation taken into account (family insurance benefits, tuition reimbursement, etc.)? If there was indeed a pay cut, was it taken within the context of increased career progression opportunities and more salary potential?

PAC: Up to this point most of the PAC members have never met or communicated with The Candidate. However, just having the knowledge of these events is reason enough to cause concern. Almost every member of this committee has been approached by residents asking what is going on with our Police Department. Town staff has said they cannot comment on employee matters, and we respect that such a chain of command must be followed. In that regard, staff reports to Department Heads and they report to the Town Manager. The Town Manager reports to Council. So, the end of the chain is Council. You report to, and represent, the residents. So, we understand that the police Chief and police department employees do not work directly for Council. But the Town Manager works for Council, and Council has every ability to insist that he address these issues and that he do it in a truthful and professional manner, to the satisfaction of Council and in the best interest of the community.

TM: It is comforting that members of the Committee understand how the reporting structure works. It’s concerning though that the Committee did not schedule an appointment to discuss these concerns with me. I’m approachable. I don’t bite. I’m freaked out
by Palmetto bugs just like the next guy and may sometimes wail like a 3-year-old when I see one. And, most importantly - - - I’m committed to working with staff and residents to advance Council-set initiatives/policies.

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