Story updated – Prince Edward County Administrator voted out by supervisors

Published 8:53 am Thursday, April 16, 2020

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The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors emerged from a closed session Tuesday night, April 14, and voted 5-3 to not renew County Administrator Wade Bartlett’s contract.

“This was not due to cause,” Board Chairman Jerry R. Townsend said of the decision in a Wednesday, April 15, press release. “The majority of the board believes that at this time, the county will benefit from a change in direction with new leadership.”

It is unclear if Bartlett remains in his role as county administrator through the end of his contract June 30, or not. One supervisor said Bartlett was asked to surrender his keys after the meeting.

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Those voting “yes” to not renew Bartlett’s contract included Farmville 801 District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones, Prospect District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman J. David Emert, Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride, Leigh District Supervisor Townsend and Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck.

Those voting “no” included Farmville 101 District Supervisor Beverly M. Booth, Buffalo District Supervisor Llew Gilliam Jr. and Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones.

All the supervisors, except for Wilck, were physically at the county administration building. Wilck participated in the meeting by phone.

“I respect the decision made by the Board of Supervisors,” Bartlett said Wednesday afternoon via a text message. “In the almost 13 years I have served as the county administrator, I have dedicated myself to the position and have served faithfully because I care about the county and its citizens.”

After pointing out the difficulty of managing the county through the Great Recession and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars through different initiatives, Bartlett thanked the board for his time as county administrator.

“I trust the Board of Supervisors will continue to move forward in a positive way that will serve the citizens well through these uncertain times,” he stated. “I look forward to what lies ahead of me in my career of public service. I want to thank the citizens and the Board of Supervisors for allowing me to serve the county for the last 13 years.”

Jones said some people did not vote the way he anticipated, but said an event that took place after the meeting was the biggest surprise of the evening.

“The real thing that shocked me is that our chair (Townsend) and vice chair (Emert), after our meeting was adjourned, they took it upon themselves to meet with Mr. Bartlett in private and took his keys away and put him on suspension from work, and there was no board vote to do so,” Jones said.

Jones considered an alternate way things could have been handled.

“Obviously, if we probably called another meeting back and they called for a vote to suspend him, I guess they would probably vote along the same lines they did before, but I do think they way overstepped their rights to do so without a board vote,” he said. “If they will carry on business like that in our county, we don’t need to have board meetings. We just let the chair and vice chair make all the decisions for us, and that has really upset me.”

In a call placed to the county administrator’s office Wednesday afternoon, a county employee who answered the phone said Bartlett was out of the office.

Townsend would not say if Bartlett remains active in his role as county administrator, or if his duties have been suspended.

“The press release is pretty much, at this point in time, all I can reveal,” he said.

Jones said he called both the chair and vice chair and asked what is going to happen.

“We’ve got a lot of business going on,” Jones said. “We’ve got the coronavirus problem. We don’t have a county planner, and Wade has taken on things, like we’re running the landfill, the county is (running the landfill) itself now, and not hiring somebody to do it, saving us lots and lots of money.”

Jones noted that Bartlett has hired some good operators at the landfill, but Bartlett still has a hands-on role with that, along with economic development, working with Prince Edward County Director of Economic Development Kate Pickett.

“And we’ve just done the courthouse renovations, which we’ve got a $10 million loan that has to be distributed and payments to the construction companies,” Jones said. “Wade took on himself, along with the help of Bob Timmons, overseeing the project. They’ve got a punch list of things that need to be finished. I don’t think any of the other staff in our county is familiar at all with that situation.”

Bartlett has filled in for open positions for numbers of years, not just in the short term, Jones said.

“We’ve been without a county planner, I don’t know the exact number of years, but after Mr. Pickett passed, Wade filled in for a long time for him until we hired Rob (Fowler), and then he’s filled in for him ever since then,” Jones said. “He has filled in for our economic developer position which has been vacant for quite a while until we just hired Kate.”

Jones said he has spoken with members of the Piedmont Regional Jail Board on which Bartlett serves.

“They depend upon his financial guidance for their budget tremendously, and (a board member) is very upset about the fact that Wade was released,” Jones said.

Bartlett also handles stormwater management for construction sites, Jones noted.

“We have nobody else qualified to do that,” Jones said. “He’s been doing that, so if somebody wants to come in and build a home now and a site has to have the proper permitting for the stormwater management, we don’t have anybody to do it.”

Jones said he spoke to both the chair and vice chair, and he said they do not have a plan.

“They don’t know,” he said. “And in the serious situation we have right now in our nation and in our world, our county definitely needs some leadership. Of course, we have good people that work under Wade, but they’re overloaded with work already. They can’t take on all the workload he’s doing.”

Jones said a supervisor who voted “yes” to not renewing Bartlett’s contract noted the county would have to hire two people to do what he does.

“I don’t think two people would cover what he does,” Jones said. “It’d take three. The man works weekends, he works late hours — he’s a workaholic, there’s no doubt about it. And he’s done tons of good for our county, just unbelievable. And right now, to find somebody that would come to this county and take his position, first of all with all the goings on with coronavirus, would be a tough task. And on top of that, I think if anybody did their homework and found out how he was treated, I think they would mark Prince Edward County off their list of a place to want to start a career.”

Wilck said he didn’t expect the decision on Bartlett to come so quickly.

“It was going to come up to a vote, and I think I had indicated that with all the coronavirus and stuff going around that maybe we just put an extension of a few months on it or something like that to get through this stuff before we have the vote on it,” he said. “But Wade really kind of pushed it and said he’d like to know. So that’s basically what happened.”

Wilck noted Bartlett has been in the country administrator role for a long time and has done a lot.

“He is the most amazing man with figures I’ve ever met, and I’ve met quite a few,” Wilck said. “But there sort of is a newer group than there’s ever been since I’ve been on the board. Mainly it was old-timers then. Now, I’m the old-timer. I think Bobby Jones is the only one that’s been on there longer than I have. And they just, I think, decided they wanted to do some different things from what Wade was comfortable with.”

Wilck praised Bartlett for his response to the board’s decision.

“Wade offered to make sure that, of course, it was a smooth transition of power and whatnot to the new person we might bring in,” Wilck said. “And also if it took a little bit longer to get somebody trained or something like that, he’d be happy to stay on an extra month or two beyond when his contract was, all of which I thought was pretty nice, particularly in these times with the virus and the situation where there’s a lot of unknown(s) out there.”

Jones said he knows there are some board members who are not satisfied with Bartlett.

“They all compliment the work he does, but some of them have issues with other things,” he said. “One, I believe, has issues with the fact that Wade has enforced some violations of ordinances on him, and he seems to blame Wade for that, where he is in violation of these ordinances, and he hasn’t done anything to correct them.”

Emert has dealt with legal complaints in the past with regard to the maintenance and appearance of some of his property and the lack of containment of livestock. According to online court records, in some cases he was found not guilty or the case was dismissed, and in others he was found guilty and paid a fine. Two cases involving charges of zoning ordinance noncompliance, for which Bartlett is listed as the complainant, have been continued to May 6.

Jones said everybody is always very complimentary of the budgets that Bartlett prepares, which Jones noted are very well-thought out and well-prepared.

“I’m very upset with some of my fellow board members,” Jones said. “Mr. Bartlett, some of them claim that he’s wasted money for the county. The only money he can spend is what the board votes on.”

Cooper-Jones and Pride said they had no comment on the board’s action regarding Bartlett’s contract.

Booth and Emert did not return calls by 5 p.m. Wednesday to their phone numbers listed on the county website.