This much we know:
• On Oct. 3, 2016, the contract of Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick was extended by two years, to Dec. 2, 2019, with an increase of severance from one to two years of his then-annual salary of nearly $97,000 in addition to other benefits.
• Yearick was placed on administrative leave on May 21 to allow county commissioners the opportunity to investigate claims about his actions and performance.
• On Oct. 15, at the announced conclusion of its investigation, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners announced it would continue Yearick’s paid administrative leave through the end of his contract.
This much we do not know:
• Everything else.
Except, of course, that our county commissioners made a decision based on information they, and presumably the board’s legal representative John “Jak” Reeves, alone fully possess and which will cost taxpayers significant tax dollars with no return on the investment.
That the cost could be significantly higher if litigation were to pursue — about what we are not fully aware — and were our county planner and now interim county manager, Adam Stumb, not willing to pull double duty with no increase in pay, is the argument offered for Yearick’s arrangement.
As a general population, we can understand the need for privacy surrounding personnel matters. Each of us should expect the same treatment from our employers — unless our employer happened to be a government agency and our job funded by taxpayer dollars.
Even if this were the case, as it is with Yearick, we could conceivably allow that some personnel matters must be kept confidential.
But, as it is with Yearick’s case, county taxpayers have been offered nothing — no criminal charges, no reports — to explain this significant financial decision made by our county commissioners.
This is beyond unacceptable, and the antithesis of government transparency.
Although we have asked the questions of the key players, we at the Ashe Post & Times have gotten the same information about this situation as the general public: Nothing.
To that end, AP&T reporters have filed public records requests for information we are legally owed.
To the credit of our county clerk, Ann Clark, we have confirmation that this records request was forwarded the day she received it to “appropriate departments and people.” We will “receive the records as soon as possible,” we have been assured.
When that will be is unknowable. Public records law is vague on this point.
But, more to the point, what they will reveal will hopefully turn the unknowable knowable. This remains to be seen. Such records often contain significant redactions that must then be accepted or confronted.
Sadly, we have come to this point. How much more trust would we have in our local government were our county leaders to speak clearly and honestly about this without the need for an official records request?