Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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Commissioners formally dismiss county attorney, hire new one

In a brief five-minute public meeting Monday morning, Alamance County’s board of commissioners took formal action to dismiss their long-serving county attorney, who they let go for undisclosed reasons last week.

During a special-called meeting that morning, the commissioners passed a single motion to “take final action” to dismiss Clyde Albright from his 13-year appointment as Alamance County attorney and to hire Debra Bechtel of Catawba County to serve as “interim county attorney.”

Sheriff Terry Johnson greets the new county attorney, Debra Bechtel, after Monday morning’s board of commissioners’ meeting when she was hired.

This two-part motion passed on a vote of 4-to-0 precisely one week after the commissioners held a closed-door discussion in which they reportedly reached a consensus to fire Albright.

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The commissioners made no mention of Albright’s dismissal when they returned to open session after their conclave last week. In fact, Albright himself didn’t learn that he had been stripped of his post until he showed up for work that Wednesday – two days later.

The board’s failure to confirm Albright’s dismissal in open session appeared to contravene North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law, which allows elected bodies to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors but requires that they take “final action” to hire or fire a staff member in open session.

The board’s vote this week came off as an admittedly belated attempt to comply with the Open Meetings Law.

In fact, county commissioner Bill Lashley, who presented the official motion to replace Albright with Bechtel, conceded in the motion that the former county attorney had been “dismissed from his full-time employment” on “October 6, 2021” when he read out the text of the motion.

Lashley was ultimately joined in approving this motion by fellow commissioners Pam Thompson, John Paisley, Jr., and Steve Carter – the latter of whom participated via the Zoom teleconferencing platform.

Not present at all during the special-called meeting was commissioner Craig Turner. An attorney by trade, Turner was reportedly in a jury trial that morning, which precluded his participation in the board’s five-minute public meeting.

A jury trial had also forced Turner to tune in remotely during last Monday’s closed session – although his vote behind closed doors on Albright’s dismissal has yet to be revealed. The implication was that he, too, had agreed to Albright’s firing.

A long-time county attorney for Catawba County, Betchel retired from her public position in June and currently serves as an associate with the law firm of Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham.

 

Debra Bechtel on her first day on the job as Alamance County attorney.

Last Wednesday, Lashley informed The Alamance News that he and his fellow commissioners had enlisted the Teague Campbell law firm “to protect the county’s interests” in the wake of Albright’s dismissal.

After this week’s meeting, Lashley also confirmed that she was the attorney from Teague Campbell who had been on call when the commissioners discussed Albright’s fate in closed session last week. Commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr. told the newspaper last week that an attorney with the law firm was on the call, although he didn’t specify which one.

Bechtel, who was physically present in Alamance County’s meeting chambers Monday, forswore any long-term desire to serve as Alamance County’s attorney in a brief conversation after Monday’s special-called meeting.

“All I’m here to do right now,” she said, “is to provide help and support, to the commissioners, the staff, and the county in whatever way they may need.”

For his part, Albright, reached for comment after the meeting, said Bechtel was a good attorney, and that he had been familiar with her work in Catawba County.

He did, however, take exception to the motion that had been employed to hire her, in addition to the portion that formalized his termination.

“There is no position of ‘interim county attorney,’” Albright said, quoting from the statute that provides simply for the commissioners to appoint a county attorney to be its legal adviser. “She’s the county attorney,” he said, emphasizing that the statute has no provision for “interim.”

In response to a public records request filed last week with the county, human resources director and assistant county manager Sherry Hook provided the following information about the rates of pay for the law firm Bechtel works for – i.e., Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham, LLP: $275 hourly for partners; $225 for associates; and $150 an hour for paralegals.

Additionally, the county agrees to pay costs and expenses, if any, paid or incurred by the firm in connection with Bechtel’s representation.

Both the law firm and the commissioners have the right to terminate the firm’s services “at any time.”

The representation agreement was signed Monday, October 11.

[See separate story on Albright’s suspicions about why he was fired, as well as separate story pulling together public records and other sources.]

 


See last week’s edition on Albright’s firing:  https://alamancenews.com/county-attorney-clyde-albright-fired/

And the newspaper’s editorial on the illegal procedure used last week to fire him: https://alamancenews.com/commissioners-procedure-for-firing-county-attorney-was-flagrantly-illegal-itll-probably-land-them-in-hot-water-a-court-case-and-end-up-costing-taxpayers-thousands-of-dollars/

 

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