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Spring Lake board could name new town manager

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Samantha Wullenwaber’s employment history with the town of Spring Lake.

SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen could name a new town manager during its meeting tonight, several board members said.

The board meets at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

The board has been interviewing town manager candidates for the past few weeks. Mayor Kia Anthony announced at the last board meeting that the list had been narrowed to two people. The names of those candidates have not been released.

The town has not had a full-time manager since Samantha Wullenwaber left in March. Joe Durham had been serving as interim manager. His last day was in September.

A few aldermen who were contacted this weekend discussed what they would like to see in the next town manager.

“A town manager who is willing to put Spring Lake first, not only for residents but for employees and businesses,’’ Alderman Marvin Lackman said. “One who will work with external partners to include the state, county government, our military and other municipalities.” 

Alderman Raul Palacios said the next manager needs to have experience in capital improvement plans and needs to have an extended network.

“Spring Lake needs a town manager that has a reputation and history of fiscal accountability, can work with and train our town staff, can create and execute needed policy, has experience in CIP for much-needed revitalization, and someone that has relationships with qualified professionals that they can tap into for the future of Spring Lake,” Palacios said.

Lackman and Palacios said they expect an announcement to be made at Monday’s meeting.

“Both candidates have been qualified by the LGC (Local Government Commission),’’ Palacios said. “In my opinion, only one of them has the experience I'm looking for, but we will see if that's the will of the majority.”

Alderwoman Sona Cooper said she would like to see someone who will work well with staff and the board. She said she does not expect a vote Monday because she said they are still doing background checks on the final two candidates.

The town has been through several town managers in the last 10 years, weathering storms such as a state investigation into the Police Department in 2009 that resulted in Cumberland County assuming control of law enforcement and two state audit investigations in 2016 and 2022. The latter investigation resulted in the Local Government Commission assuming financial control of the town.

In the last 15 years, the town has had 12 town managers, including longer-term interim town managers. Of those managers, six resigned for other positions, three resigned under duress and two were fired. One manager was removed from service before her 30-day resignation and one was fired twice. No town manager in the last 12 years has served more than two and a half years of consecutive service.

There have also been a host of interim town managers, some of whom served short periods of time. These appointments were mostly staff members, including former town clerks, the fire chief, the public works director and others.

When the police scandal broke in 2007, Edward “Larry” Faison, a colonel in the Army reserves, had only been at work for less than a month. He replaced Hal Hegwer, who left to become the city manager in Sanford, in June 2007.

Faison resigned in 2009 after the Spring Lake Police Department was stripped of its authority by court officials. He was asked for his resignation after a closed session amid complaints by the board that he had not handled the situation better.

The next town manager was Michael Uskiewicz, who was fired by the board after less than a year in 2010. When he was hired, he had been fired in three previous communities. 

Tommy Burns, who had previously served as the town manager in Lillington and Coats, began in June 2011 before resigning to become the Harnett County manager in 2013.

He was replaced by Ken Metcalf, who was appointed as the interim town manager in April 2013. Metcalf was the Spring Lake Parks and Recreation director but impressed the board so much that he was made the permanent town manager in August 2013.

However, Metcalf resigned as a state audit investigation was underway in March 2015. The audit investigation found that dozens of town employees had misspent $488,000 in five years.

Former Fort Bragg garrison commander Addison “Tad” Davis replaced Metcalf in July 2015 and stayed until August 2017 when he was offered a position at the Pentagon.

After a few months under interim town manager William Zell, the board hired Daniel Gerald to be the next town manager in January 2018. He had served as the town’s water resources director from 2006-10. He had been fired from town manager positions in Princeville and Green Level before becoming town manager. In 2018, he sued the town of Princeville regarding his unemployment.

Gerald was fired in August 2019 by the board with a majority who claimed he had lost their trust and had started to realize that the town might be in dire financial straits. 

Four months later, the election turned the majority, and he was rehired in December 2019. Less than a year later, in November 2020, he was fired again with Mayor Pro Tem Taimoor Aziz joining Alderwomen Sona Cooper and Fredricka Sutherland to remove him from office.

Former Clayton Town Manager Adam Lindsey then came into the position in December 2020 before resigning in March 2021 to become the assistant city manager for the city of Fayetteville.

On his heels taking the position that same month was his former colleague Samantha Wullenwaber, who had been the planning director in Clayton. Wullenwaber served as the interim town manager until Dec. 2. As interim manager, she also served as the budget officer, the finance officer and a secondary check signer for the town.

She began working with the Mid-Carolina Regional Council on Dec. 3 and continued serving as the interim town manager through an interlocal agreement between the council, the town and the Local Government Commission.

On March 3, Mid-Carolina submitted a notice of termination letter to the town of Spring Lake and the Local Government Commission for interim town manager services effective April 3. On March 17, the town chose to terminate the services early. There was not a public vote to terminate her services.

On March 28, Joe Durham was sworn in. Initially hired to conduct the permanent town manager search in February, Durham accepted the interim position to help the town as it addressed the findings in the state audit report that was released March 17.

Durham has helped the town in its search while also serving as the interim town manager. His last day was at the end of September.

N.C. State Treasurer Dale Folwell said earlier this month that he encouraged the board to choose its next town manager wisely.

“The residents of Spring Lake have been through a lot in the last 10 years. They deserve better,” Folwell said.

Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView. She can be reached at jmclaughlin@cityviewnc.com.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, town manager