Citizens, two commissioners file lawsuit over Martin County manager hiring & pay raises

Martin County citizens and two county commissioners filed suit against the county, the county manager, and three Martin County commissioners.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 10:33 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2023 at 3:26 PM EDT
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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Two Eastern Carolina county commissioners and residents have filed a lawsuit over the hiring and pay raises for a county manager.

Four Martin County citizens and two county commissioners filed suit against the county and the county Board of Commissioners.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Martin County, alleges numerous violations of the North Carolina Open Meetings Laws, and the Public Records Law, and seeks to reverse the results of meetings or approvals by commissioners concerning the hiring and salary increases for County Manager James Bennett.

During a September 19th commissioners meeting, it was discovered Bennett had received seven raises since he was hired two and a half years ago. Joseph Ayers and Skip Gurganus, both county commissioners, claim they were not aware of four of those raises.

Specific points from the filed suit highlight nine different alleged violations of the open meetings law. It claims the defendants held meetings since February 2021 and completed business without proper notice, opportunity for public access, and without minutes being created.

The group says because of these points, they are requesting a judge toss out nearly $60,000 in raises, bringing Bennett’s annual salary to $186,179.

In a news release, those bringing the suit said, “This lawsuit is designed to shine a light on the misconduct of some of our elected officials to bring about immediate leadership changes that would better position our county to restore critical health care services.”

In addition to the two county commissioners, others filing the lawsuit are Laurence Lilley, Jr., Walter Whitfield, Mamie Rodgers, and Charles Roberson.

WITN has reached out to Bennett and the three other county commissioners asking for their reaction to this lawsuit being filed.