The mayor here has acknowledged that Seth Lawless, who recently resigned as town manager soon after returning from nearly three months of health leave, may have wanted to return more quickly, but denies that he forced Lawless out.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” James Roberson said. “I have not forced Seth out. I want to make that perfectly clear. ... Seth submitted his letter of resignation to me, and I submitted it to the council and they voted to accept it.”
As far as Lawless’ health leave, Roberson said, “We wanted Seth to go ahead and take care of his medical issues. He may have wanted that. He may have wanted to come back in a week, but I think he realized that he needed to take care of his medical issues.”
Town spokesman Brian Bowman said Lawless will be eligible for federal COBRA, or Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, continued health insurance benefits.
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Roberson also said the town will be reaching out to the N.C. League of Municipalities again in looking for an interim town manager, as it did in bringing in Hal Mason, a Garner retiree with decades of service for North and South Carolina municipalities, on a part-time basis as acting manager while Lawless was out on leave. In fact, Roberson said, if Mason is willing again, the town will probably bring him back in as interim manager.
“If he’s available, we would love to bring him back,” Roberson said, “since he’s already familiar with our landscape.”
Roberson said the town will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement and that the Town Council will have a public discussion about the search at its summer retreat, which is has not yet been scheduled. “We’re planning a session to determine what our process will entail,” he said. “We’re trying to put things together, and we are in the process of making that happen.”
Lawless who has, so far declined to elaborate on his decision to resign, said he might speak publicly as his last day of June 30 draws closer.
Roberson announced at the conclusion of a Town Council meeting Monday, June 6, that Lawless had tendered his letter of resignation. The announcement came as the council returned to open session from about an hour-long closed session. Lawless had already left the meeting before Roberson made the announcement.
“He assured us that we were in good hands with the staff we have,” Roberson said after the announcement, “and we have seen evidence of that.”
In a statement the town released the day after Lawless’ announcement, Roberson said Lawless is “leaving us to pursue other opportunities.”
The statement goes on to praise Lawless for accomplishments including: exceeding the town’s effort to have fund balance reserves at 40 percent of operating funds, doubling the number of paid firefighters and providing new town services and facilities.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826