Jay Parmley - who took over the director job last year after holding a similar post in South Carolina - said Sunday he was stepping down because he refused to be a distraction in an important election year.
The move came after e-mails began circulating in the media late last week that mentioned harassment allegations at the Democratic Party headquarters. Speaking with ABC11 Monday, a Democratic Party official corroborated the story that there was a settlement and a confidentiality agreement signed involving Parmley.
In his resignation letter obtained by ABC11, Parmley vehemently denied harassing any party worker.
"Let me be clear: I have never harassed any employee at any time," he wrote in part.
In accepting Parmley's resignation, party Chairman David Parker echoed Parmley's view that the allegations were becoming a political distraction. Parker didn't resign.
The Statesville attorney - who said he's successfully prosecuted harassment and discrimination cases - said in a statement that accompanied Parmley's resignation letter that it's his legal opinion "that there have not been grounds for termination for cause of Jay Parmley."
"In this political world of rushing to judgment and the presumption of guilt, however, my legal and personal opinion has been outweighed by this having become a political distraction and issue," Parker wrote.
But Parmley's departure may not be enough for some. There have also been frustrations expressed by some Democrats about management and a high turnover amongst staffers at the party headquarters.
Hayes McNeill, a member of the state party's Executive Committee, told the Associated Press that Parker needs to take a hard look at whether he can continue as chairman because of how the situation has been handled. Transparency is needed from party leaders, he said.
"You have to realize the offense is not the problem," said McNeill, a former Forsyth County party chairman. He added, "There was a deficiency in supervision, management that allowed this thing to blossom out."
State Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, a gubernatorial candidate who lost to Parker in the race for state party chairman in early 2011, suggested Parker should follow Parmley's lead "on behalf of the 2.7 million Democrats in N.C. so that we can get on with the primary election without further distraction."
"We can't tolerate harassment anywhere in the workplace. It has to be dealt with, and it is the party chair's role to be responsible for his staff. And in that regard, he has to provide the accountability, the transparency and leadership on the issues," Faison told ABC11 Monday.
Through a party spokesman, Parker said Sunday night: "I have no plans to resign."
Parmley's departure is the latest setback for a state party that has been coming to terms with Republicans controlling the state House and Senate for the first time in 140 years. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue surprised many in January by announcing she wouldn't seek re-election, forcing other Democrats to scramble to mount primary campaigns. Six Democrats are running in the May 8 primary.
Republicans are cautiously optimistic that former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Perdue four years ago, will win the Executive Mansion for the GOP for the first time since the 1988 election.
The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte in less than five months.