Residents and commissioners question Martin County manager’s raises

Residents left without answers after county mangers gets raises without boards knowledge
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 9:46 PM EDT
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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Martin County residents were left with a lot of questions and few answers after Wednesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

During a board meeting last week, some county commissioners said they realized County Manager James Bennett had received seven raises totaling $45,000 in all since he took the manager’s position in 2021. County commissioners say they had no knowledge of four of those raises.

Bennett’s current compensation is more than $186k a year, The county manager in Greene County, another ENC county that is similar in size to Martin County, makes less than $140k a year.

Residents say that they are upset and confused by the raises, and the lack of knowledge that they were happening.

“I’m very concerned about our county. I’m very concerned about the lack of transparency in government,” said Martin County resident Paul Roberson Jr.

It was revealed to the public in a board of commissioners meeting last Wednesday that Bennet has received the raises, which county commissioners say happened without their knowledge or approval.

“We found out that somebody, we don’t know who, somebody authorized for pretty good increases which amounted to around $45,000, and that is problematic because it was never discussed at a board meeting,” said Commissioner Skip Gurganus.

Gurganus demanded answers at the meeting but was met with none. “Crickets and pandemonium,” said Gurganus.

When commissioners went into a closed session, Williamston resident Princess Wilson said she felt it should’ve been kept public.

“If it’s not on the minutes, what are you doing to our money, to our tax money?” said Wilson.

With Martin General Hospital closing its doors early last month, Wilson feels this just adds to concerns residents have about the state of the county.

“Very upset that this has been allowed to go on so long,” said Wilson, “If only somebody could come through and fix this, it would help anything in this situation.”

Gurganus added that now is not the time for division within the board.

“The county’s in a hospital crisis, we need to be on the same page working for the citizens. These are positions of service,” said Gurganus. “They are not positions of power. When we lose sight of that election, leaders need to go home and stay home and let people who are willing to serve do just that.”

When asked if there was any update on the hospital’s status, Grurganus said they are now in a position to have their consultant move forward to find a provider, but he said he doesn’t know how or when that will happen.

There is a special meeting being called at 6 pm on Wednesday the 27th, with two items being closed door. Then, possibly opening it up to the public. One of the agenda items listed is personnel.