Durham County leadership is 'dysfunctional,' according to report that cleared 2 leaders of racism, sabotage

Sunday, August 23, 2020
Durham County leadership is 'dysfunctional,' investigator finds
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Durham County leadership is 'dysfunctional,' investigator finds

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham County Manager Wendell Davis, Commissioner Heidi Carter, and members of Commission Board are in an awkward place.

An investigative report released in August found that the board is "dysfunctional" and the relationships between board members are "fractured."

James Coleman Jr., an attorney from Duke University hired by the county to investigate racial bias and unfair treatment in county government created the report.

Coleman was hired after Davis claimed that Carter displayed a pattern of racist behavior toward him and other colleagues of color.

READ: Full report on the complaint filed against Carter

Back in February, Davis wrote a letter describing that he felt publicly attacked by Carter during a work session over a school budget presentation.

Davis alleged that Carter once told him, "You work for the board. When we tell you do something, you better grin and bear it." Carter denies saying that phrase and believes Davis' claim is fabricated.

Members of the board and senior staff were interviewed as Coleman investigated what happened.

Coleman determined Heidi's intentions were not racially motivated. But because of the fractured relationships, both Davis and staff reasonably could have perceived Carter's criticisms of Davis as racially biased.

The investigator concluded stating the board, the county manager and staff need to find ways to build trust and improve communication.

After Davis' allegations surfaced publicly, someone filed an anonymous complaint against Davis with the International City/County Management Association, an independent oversight committee.

READ: Full report on the complaint filed against Davis

The committee determined he did not violate grievance policies or ethics.

Davis responded to the results of his investigation.

"I firmly believe, that had I done something wrong, certain members of this Body were well prepared to terminate me. In fact, I've experienced multiple acts of retaliation ever since I filed my original complaint. Understanding that our working relationship has suffered, going forward I would like to work together for the greater good of Durham. I hope that you will join me in that spirit."

Today, Heidi Carter released a statement regarding her investigation.

"First and foremost, I am grateful for the investigator's conclusions that my words and actions were not racially discriminatory or motivated by racial bias. This has been difficult for all involved, and I am glad to have this investigation behind us and to be cleared of the accusations of racist behavior. I am eager to move ahead on issues of education, health, economic security, environmental sustainability and racial equity.

It's so important to me to foster a positive relationship between the Board and our dedicated County staff members. As Commissioners, we often need to ask questions of our staff, and I appreciate the data, expertise and insights they provide. As elected officials, we must also seek and respond to input from constituents, local advocates and policy experts. Sometimes there is tension or conflict between the recommendations we receive from staff and the priorities that are asked of us by the community. If my questions or comments in resolving these challenges have been perceived by any of our staff members as racially biased, I am truly sorry for that. This report makes clear that there is more work to do to build a positive, effective relationship between elected officials and County staff, and I am committed to contributing to that.

Women leaders have long been criticized for their tone. It is disappointing but familiar to have some individuals describe my advocacy as "abrasive" or "acidic" and to hear requests to "do something to get Commissioner Carter under control". Women who are advocating for their priorities and principles do not need to be controlled or moderated, and the degree to which these sexist undertones continue to permeate our conversations is disturbing. I was also deeply concerned that leaders of color in Durham, particularly women of color, who vouched for my commitment and my character, were harassed for their statements of support.

I recognize that my experiences as a citizen and an elected official are shaped by white privilege, and that my words and actions may have unintended interpretations or impacts. I remain dedicated to uncovering and confronting unconscious bias in my work, to understanding and addressing these unintended impacts, and to advocating for anti-racist policies to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

I have further comments I would like to share, but I have been advised not to do so by County lawyers as this is considered a personnel matter."