Commissioners called a special meeting Friday to settle the terms of a separation agreement with Town Manager Rick Hardin.
Hardin was suspended with pay Monday night after a Wake County deputy stopped him in West Raleigh early last Sunday for speeding, then also charged him with driving while impaired.
The deputy charged Hardin after a breath test indicated he had a blood alcohol content of .13. The legal alcohol limit for driving in North Carolina is .08.
Hardin, 52, of 615 Stratford Road in Zebulon, spent the night at the Wake County jail after he was charged. Sunday’s arrest marked the second time Hardin has been charged with the offense while working as Zebulon’s town manager.
He was also charged with speeding Sunday after the deputy determined the 2008 BMW he was driving was going 55 mph in a 35 mph speed zone, according to a citation filed Monday at the Wake County Clerk of Court’s Office.
Hardin declined comment Monday when reached at his home. He had not submitted a letter of resignation as of Wednesday.
Commissioners decided to suspend Hardin after a 45-minute closed-door meeting Monday night. Hardin was not present. Mayor Bob Matheny was appointed acting administrator until an interim manager can be hired.
“The process of hiring a new manager could take a lot longer than you might think,” town attorney Eric Vernon said. “The sense from the board is that we would likely need an interim before hiring a new manager, if in fact Rick’s suspension stayed in effect.”
State law prohibits the appointment of mayors and commissioners to the position of town manager, or acting or interim town manager. The role of an acting administrator is strictly to assist town staff with questions they have and the appointment was made with no intention of Matheny acting as town manager, according to Vernon.
“Right now (department heads) are running their own departments, which is what they’ve always done,” Matheny said. “If they had insurmountable problems, they would tell me about them and, based on what I understand is my authority, I can offer them advice but cannot tell them what to do.”
Matheny is not being paid as acting administrator.
Hardin’s contract with Zebulon states the town has no obligation to pay Hardin severance if he is terminated because of charges or convictions of a misdemeanor involving “moral turpitude.” Vernon declined to comment on whether the DWI charge falls under that definition, and declined to say if there is any way Hardin could keep his job.
The traffic stop occurred just before 1:10 a.m. on Glenwood Avenue, near the intersection of Argyle Drive.
When the deputy approached Hardin’s vehicle, he reported that there was the “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage” emanating from the car. The town manager’s eyes were “red” and “glassy,” and he was “unsteady on [his] feet” and had “slurred speech,” according to the citation.
The arresting deputy reported that Hardin admitted drinking one hour before he was pulled over for speeding.
Hardin, whose current salary is $113,657, told a Wake County magistrate that he has been employed by the Town of Zebulon for the past 15 years.
He was booked into the Wake County jail Sunday at 1:50 a.m. and was released from custody later that day at 12:17 p.m. after posting a $500 bond, a jail spokesman reported. Court documents show Hardin has been allowed limited driving privileges.
Hardin’s first DWI charge was on Feb. 11, 2007, when a Wake County deputy stopped him shortly after midnight at I-540 near the U.S. 64 Bypass. Court records show his blood alcohol content in that instance was .10.
He was found guilty and sentenced to one year probation. He was also ordered to perform 24 hours of community service and pay fines and court costs totaling $210, court records show.
Matheny publicly expressed support for Hardin following the first DWI charge.
“There are an awful lot of productive people who’ve had DWIs and even worse,” Matheny said at the time. “They stand up and take their medicine and move on. Life goes on and they do very well.”
Matheny on Wednesday said he thought Hardin was required to take part in an alcohol assessment after the first charge, and that he and other town leaders must have figured that was enough of a remedy at the time.
“I think hindsight can be 20-20,” Matheny said. “You can always second guess yourself. Do I wish we had (intervened)? Sure, because maybe that would have prevented this one from happening.”
Zebulon commissioners declined to comment for this story, referring all questions to Matheny.