Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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County attorney Clyde Albright fired

Alamance County’s attorney has been fired by the county’s board of commissioners – for reasons that aren’t entirely clear at the moment but have apparently been brewing for some time.

Clyde Albright, who had served as the county’s chief legal representative since 2008, was formally dismissed Wednesday morning – roughly two days after a majority of the commissioners reportedly voted to end his employment in a 1-1/2 hour closed-door meeting on Monday.

Albright had little to say about his dismissal as he cleared out of his office shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The former county attorney didn’t betray any emotion as he packed some of his belongings into a plastic grocery bag under the watchful gaze of assistant county manager Sherry Hook, who also doubles as the county’s personnel director.

Also on hand to supervise Albright’s exit was county commissioner Bill Lashley, who subsequently offered a few details about circumstances around the county attorney’s departure.

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Lashley initially provided The Alamance News with a prepared statement that, on its own, shed little light on the particulars of Albright’s abrupt termination.

“Clyde Albright has separated with the county as of October 6, 2021,” the statement succinctly announced, “and the county has retained [the law firm of] Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham, LLC to protect the county’s interests. Pursuant to North Carolina’s Personnel Privacy Statute, the county has no other comment or statement at this time.”

Despite the studied vagueness of the official statement, Lashley went on to share a few revelatory tidbits with the newspaper’s reporter.

The first-term commissioner confirmed that Albright had not left of his own volition but had departed at the behest of the county’s governing board. Lashley added that a “majority” of the board had voted to dismiss the county attorney during the aforementioned closed meeting, which the commissioners held at the start of an otherwise regularly-scheduled public meeting on Monday in order to consult with an attorney in the county’s employ, to discuss the potential purchase of property for the local elections office, and to consider an unspecified personnel matter.

“It was done by a majority of the board of commissioners,” Lashley went on to reiterate when asked for a breakdown of the vote that reportedly occurred behind closed doors.

Lashley wasn’t much more forthcoming about the precise reasons for Albright’s dismissal, although he indicated that it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision by the commissioners who had voted to oust the county attorney.

““It was done by a majority of the board of commissioners. . . I can’t go into the reasons. . . . All I can say right now is that it was time.”  – County commissioner Bill Lashley

“I can’t go into the reasons,” he added. “But I did not go gently into that good night. All I can say right now is that it was time.”

Under state law, an elected body may go into closed to session to discuss specific personnel matters, such as the character or fitness of a prospective employee or to investigate a complaint or grievance against someone it already employs. The law nevertheless obligates the elected body to take “final action making an appointment or discharge or removal” of an employee “in an open meeting.”

In this case, the members of Alamance County’s board of commissioners made no mention of any action pertaining to Albright when they reconvened in open session on Monday. Nor has any county official provided a breakdown of Monday’s vote in response to subsequent entreaties from The Alamance News.

“Specifically, we request to have information on the vote of individual commissioners by which that decision was reached.” – Alamance news publisher tom boney, Jr. to county manager and county commissioner board chairman

In light of this silence from the county’s top brass, Tom Boney, Jr., the publisher of The Alamance News, sent a formal demand to the commissioners’ chairman John Paisley, Jr. and Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood, to release the minutes from the portion of Monday’s closed session that pertained to Albright’s termination.

“Specifically, we request to have information on the vote of individual commissioners by which that decision was reached,” Boney goes on to note in the letter, which was dispatched to its intended recipients on Wednesday afternoon.

As things fell out, it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that word of Albright’s dismissal began to filter out to the rest of the world. It was then that the news reached the local courts system, which had expected Albright to appear in superior court on Wednesday morning for a case that the county has pursued against the owners of an illegal junkyard at 1940 Barbee Street on the outskirts of Burlington.

Instead of the county attorney, a lawyer who identified himself as Jacob Wellman appeared before visiting superior court judge Kevin Bridges, who was presiding over civil superior court matters on Wednesday. An attorney with the Teague Campbell law firm, Wellman acknowledged that he had been assigned to fill in for the county’s “counsel of record,” who he added was no longer employed with the county. Wellman went on to identify Albright as the former counsel of record in response to a question from the noticeably mystified superior court judge.

“That is a very recent development,” Wellman added during his brief appearance before Bridges. “I just found out about it this morning.”

“Well, thank you for letting me know about it,” the judge proceeded to say.

In the end, Wellman asked Bridges for a continuance so he could familiarize himself with the case which had fallen into his lap. Bridges granted the attorney’s request.

In addition to springing this development on the local courts system, the board of commissioners apparently didn’t even give Albright any advance warning about the change in his employment status until Wednesday.

“I’m very sad and very disappointed in the way I was treated. I thought I had done a lot of good things for the county.” – Former county attorney Clyde Albright, after his dismissal

In a telephone conversation later that day, the former county attorney acknowledged that he wasn’t formally informed about his dismissal until he came into the office that morning.

“I’m very sad and very disappointed in the way I was treated,” Albright added. “I thought I had done a lot of good things for the county.”

According to the county’s personnel office, Albright’s tenure with Alamance County began on January 16, 2007 when he was hired to serve as the assistant county attorney under then-county attorney and county manager David I. Smith. Albright’s career with the county officially ended on Wednesday, October 6, 2021. His salary at the time of his departure was $129,307.13 a year.

Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood told The Alamance News that the county retained the Teague Campbell law firm to handle its legal affairs since the commissioners held their meeting on Monday. The newspaper received an entirely different account from Paisley, who said that an attorney with Teague Campbell was actually on the line during the board’s private conclave that morning.

Although Albright had few public blowouts with the commissioners during his nearly 15 years with the county, his tenure was marred by the occasional dispute with other county officials. Perhaps most notably, the county attorney had a significant row with Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson about two years ago when the latter decided to resurrect a detention agreement that his office once had with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This sheriff’s detention deal, which has allowed him to lease jail beds to ICE for immigration detainees, had fallen by the wayside in 2012 when a branch of the U.S. Justice Department sued Johnson for allegedly targeting Latinos for traffic stops and arrests. Johnson had planned to revive the agreement administratively when his relations with the feds improved in 2018. Albright, however, insisted that the resurrected deal needed the blessing of Alamance County’s commissioners.

The sheriff ultimately agreed to get the imprimatur of the commissioners, which he obtained in February of 2019. Even so, the experience seems to have soured his relationship with Albright to the point that Johnson asked the commissioners for his own departmental attorney later that year. In the end, the sheriff’s request for his own lawyer never made it into the county’s annual budget, despite some public words of support from Amy Scott Galey, the then-chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners who now serves in North Carolina’s state senate.

Tim Sutton, a former county commissioner who also served on the board during this tiff, recalled that Galey was one of the first people to seriously broach the idea of removing Albright from his post as county attorney.

“This is nothing but back stabbing par excellence, and it is sad that our county has leaders who would do this.” – Former county commissioner tim sutton on albright’s firing

“Amy Galey personally lobbied every commissioner on that board to bring up a case that she thought Clyde should be fired for,” Sutton who retired from office in 2020 after more than two decades on the county’s governing board. “I said in closed session that ‘you don’t have a smoking gun,’ and I told her that if this continues, I will go public with it.”

“This is nothing but back stabbing par excellence,” he added in regard to the broader campaign to oust Albright, “and it is sad that our county has leaders who would do this.”

Read the newspaper’s editorial page comments on the illegal firing process.

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