The Smithfield Town Council on Tuesday announced a settlement with former town manager Eric Williams, fired amid a pay-raise scandal that remains largely unresolved.
According to the settlement, dated Sept. 3, Smithfield will pay $30,000 within 10 days to Allen, Pinnix and Nichols, the Raleigh law firm representing Williams, who sued the council for breach of contract.
The settlement came as both a relief and a disappointment to Williams, said his lawyer, Jack Nichols.
“Eric would like to have gotten more, the town would like to have paid less, but this is where we ended up,” Nichols said.
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Williams, who was fired in 2011, sued the town last May, citing a clause in his contract that said he would receive six months’ pay, or about $60,000, if fired without cause.
Before settling, the town argued that it did have cause to fire Williams because of the pay-raise scandal, which led to his firing and the resignation of other employees. During Williams’ tenure, a number of town employees, including the finance chief and town clerk at the time, received large pay raises after the town council told Williams to award no pay hikes.
Williams has said he played no role in the raises, though as town manager he was responsible for employee pay. He has laid the blame instead on then-town clerk Debbie Godwin.
Godwin, for her part, is involved in legal disputes of her own with both Williams and the town. Nichols said Williams is suing Godwin for defamation, claiming her actions and statements to the town council led to his firing. Williams also argues that Godwin should have to return any ill-gotten money she received from the town.
Godwin, meanwhile, is suing the town, seeking to recoup her legal bills.
Town Councilman Emery Ashley said he considered the Williams settlement a good one, though he would have liked for the dispute with Godwin to have ended as well. These cases, he said, are costing the town “an astronomical amount of money.”
“My hope was that we would have everything resolved at the same time,” he said.
All matters relating to the pay-raise scandal will be resolved, Ashley said, only when the town has a comprehensive report on what went on during Williams’ tenure as town manager. After the scandal broke, no such report was forthcoming, he said, because the town didn’t look into the matter well enough at the time.
Ashley, a lawyer elected after the scandal, has been conducting his own investigation. “I’m disappointed for the taxpayers and the citizens, and my hope is that I will prepare a full report on the facts as we know them, bearing in mind that we may never truly know all the facts,” he said.
“What’s not going to be pretty,” he added, “is the cost of having to go through this process. The money we spend on this could have been used for so many positive things for this town.”
Councilman Perry Harris blamed the lack of information largely on District Attorney Susan Doyle, who brought in the SBI to investigate the scandal but has since been silent.
Doyle “has allowed this to go on, and she is not doing any justice to the citizens of Smithfield for sitting on this case,” Harris said.
The DA’s office did not return a request for comment.