Durham terminates Solid Waste Management director after 3 weeks; PoliHire agrees to help for free

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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Durham terminates Solid Waste Management director after 3 weeks
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Durham fired Solid Waste Director James Lyon 3 weeks after hiring for misrepresenting experience, the city manager said.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham city leaders announced on Tuesday evening the immediate termination of the city's Solid Waste Management director after just three weeks on the job.

James Lyons started his employment with the city on May 8, City Manager Wanda Page said in a statement.

At the time of his hiring, Page said. "James brings strong, progressive leadership in environmental services, solid waste, and fleet management. His professional experience will prove useful in helping our organization serve a growing city while achieving our sustainability goals and green infrastructure investments."

But Tuesday in a release, Page sounded a different tone, saying Lyons misrepresented his experience in the solid waste industry during the hiring process. In addition, Page said PoliHire, the firm the city reportedly paid $25,000 to for vetting of applicants, didn't screen Lyons per contract agreement.

James Lyons
City of Durham

Page said city leaders are assessing the next steps to fill the position and will be conducting a review of their processes when administering contracts with executive-level recruitment firms.

"It has come to the City of Durham's attention that James Lyons, hired on May 8, 2023, as Solid Waste Management Director, misrepresented his experience in the solid waste industry during the hiring process," Page said in Tuesday's release. "He has been terminated effective immediately. While the City generally performs its own recruitment activities for many vacant positions, for executive-level positions the City contracts with recruitment firms. In this case, PoliHire, a national firm based in Washington D.C. which specializes in public service recruitment for municipalities, handled the search for this position that had been vacant since December 2022. PoliHire has confirmed that their process, which included screening of candidates for minimum requirements, did not happen as contracted."

PoliHire released this statement Wednesday regarding the situation: "The city of Durham partnered with PoliHire, a national search firm, specializing in public service recruitment for municipalities. PoliHire is a purpose driven organization, we have more than 17 years of experience working with large and small municipalities conducting searches. We take great pride in adhering to a strict policy and process for vetting all candidates as part of our contractual agreements. As such, we have already started a comprehensive internal review of the Solid Waste Management Director search, Mr. Lyons' candidacy and a deep dive into our practices to determine how best to ensure that this does not happen again. Separately, PoliHire has agreed to facilitate a new search for the open Durham Solid Waste Management Director role at no additional cost to the city."

Lyons previously worked for the City of High Point where he served in a similar capacity. He replaced Durham's former Solid Waste Management Director Donald Long, who retired in December.

Durham officials said when Lyons was hired that he had eight years of experience in that position, but an investigation by the nonprofit news organization NC Newsline found that he worked for High Point for just 15 months.

In 2015, Lyons ran for mayor in the City of Durham, losing to incumbent Bill Bell by a substantial margin.