HIGH POINT, N.C. --
The High Point City Council on Thursday waded into the ongoing dispute between Deputy Fire Chief Martha Younts and City Manager Strib Boynton.
The council voted 6-3 to meet with Younts in closed session to hear about her gender discrimination grievance against Boynton. Councilman Mike Pugh made the motion, which was supported by council members Jim Corey, Foster Douglas, A.B. Henley, Britt Moore and Bernita Sims.
“I would like to meet with her, get her side and ask her questions,” Pugh said. “I just don’t feel like we’re getting the complete story. This is a very serious matter, when someone makes charges of that magnitude. I do think we have a duty to just listen.”
Younts has claimed Boynton promised to promote her to fire chief and failed to do so because of her gender after former Chief David Taylor retired May 1. Boynton has strongly denied both allegations and has also suggested the reason Younts was not chosen as interim chief is because she was partly responsible for Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations at the fire department.
Younts went public with her allegations at the May 2 council meeting after unsuccessful attempts to meet with the body in closed session. A closed meeting is allowed by law since it involves personnel matters, but the council typically does not hear employee grievances under the council-manager form of government, which gives Boynton final say on all city employees. Younts has stated that she wants to air her complaint to the council because it supervises Boynton. She declined to meet with Mayor Becky Smothers, Mayor Pro Tem Latimer Alexander and a human resources representative, which is the city’s normal grievance procedure for employees.
“We are choosing, as a council, to step into unchartered waters,” said Smothers, who opposed the closed meeting with Younts, along with Alexander and Councilman Chris Whitley. “It seems to me you’re taking on a personnel responsibility that is not authorized by the very tenets of this organization. This employee does not work for us and none of the rest of them out there do (except Boynton and the city clerk).”
Others said they were uneasy with the meeting, given the potential liability issues looming because of the possibility that Younts might file a lawsuit or take her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“I’ve got more information I want to tell (council) in private that I’m not going to disclose in public,” Younts said Thursday.
Boynton said he reserved the right to respond to any charges from Younts and to bring his own legal counsel to the meeting, for which a date was not set.
“This is way out of the normal bounds of how this thing should be determined,” he said.
The stated purpose of the meeting is to “receive information” from Younts.
“All we’re going to do is listen and that’s it; nothing more,” Corey said.
Henley said, “I will not ask one question, but I do think it’s necessary to avoid any perception of a lack of transparency.”
This article appeared in Friday's edition of the High Point Enterprise.
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