Last updated on December 17, 2023
After Macon County Commissioner John Shearl called for the resignation of County Manager Derek Roland during the November meeting of the board of commissioners, citizens took to social media to share their disappointment in Shearl’s unprofessional behavior. After Shearl’s November interaction with Roland was found to be littered with false information and incorrect numbers regarding county procedure and historical budget figures, citizens demanded an apology from Commissioner Shearl, who just completed his first year on the board. Citizens, such as Retired Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, also signed up to speak during pubic comment period ahead of the December meeting to share their stance on Shearl’s uncalled outbursts, hoping it would result in a public apology for Roland, who has spent more than a decade working for Macon County.
Despite the urging of citizens, Commissioner Shearl not only refused to offer an apology, he double downed and reiterated his personal grievances with the county manager.
“Let me be clear that I’m not against any county employee, as the haters falsely claim,” said Commissioner Shearl. “We all appreciate their work, the same as we appreciate those in the private sector. I am a retired firefighter, an emergency medical responder, also a high school baseball coach. But none of us are special because of where we work. Again, I have stated I will always be grateful to county employees. If anyone says that I’m against employees, they’re lying and causing division. However, I am against overstaffing. The taxpayers should not be paying for what is not needed. I fully support capital improvements that we can afford. There is a cost for everything and Macon County is forced to live within its means without burden to the taxpayer. The taxpayers are the source of income for Macon County and the county employees. Before we can allocate a single dime to any expenditure, we must first get it from the hardworking taxpayers who I directly represent.”
Commissioner Shearl then went on to imply that Macon County has been reckless with taxpayer funding and placed the responsibility of his accusation on Roland.
“Like many in this great county, I’m a lifelong conservative Republican, believing God, family, country, and freedom,” said Shearl. “I will always fight for limited government, less taxes and more freedom. History has taught us the bigger the government equals less freedom.”
Commissioner Shearl directly addressed Retired Sheriff Robert Holland, claiming that the media reported Shearl asked for Roland’s resignation over ARPA funding – and said that is not why he asked Roland to resign.
Despite pointing the finger at the media – a review of local media courses proved that no media reported ARPA funding as being the reason for Shearl’s outburst.
From The Southern Scoop: “Shearl then shifted his focus to accusing Roland of overseeing a $25 million increase in the county’s budget over eight budget cycles. Despite Roland’s denial and the lack of documentation from Shearl, the claim was refuted by county records.
“I have looked at 8 budget cycles since you have been here and the budget has increased $25 million and the only thing taxpayers have gained by this $25 million in the budget is higher salaries and a larger government. That is what we have gained and our county is failing apart,” Shearl said.
Roland disagreed and said, “Maybe in your eyes,” Roland responded. “I think we have a pretty good county.”
Shearl then claimed that in a private meeting he had with Roland that the county manager said county departments were 50% overstaffed… to which Roland immediately interjected adamantly denying the claim, at which point Shearl called for Roland to resign from his position.
“I didn’t say that, John,” said Roland.
“Derek, I am going to tell you something,” said Shearl. “You have called me a liar four times in open session, so tonight, I ask for your resignation.”
From the Smoky Mountain News: “From there, the discussion between Shearl and Roland got personal with Shearl claiming that Roland had previously told him the county was 50% over-staffed, which Roland denied.
“You have called me a liar four times in open session, so tonight, I ask for your resignation,” said Shearl.
The Franklin Press: “Shearl said Roland had stated ina meeting that the county was 50% overstaffed, a claim that Roland scoffed at.
“I’ll tell you what, you called me a liar four times in open session, so tonight, I ask for your resignation,” Shearl told Roland to gasps from the audience, and an audience member called Shearl a liar.”
Commissioner Shearl did acknowledge that he “misspoke” during the November board meeting and was incorrect in saying that the county’s budget had increased by $25 million over the previous 8 years under Roland’s management.
However, rather than offering an apology or legitimate clarification of his statements, he again blamed the media and claimed they should have reported on background information and issues they weren’t privy to.
“As usual, the media missed the whole point that the taxpayers in Macon County have gotten larger government and bigger salaries at the taxpayers’ expense,” Shearl falsely claimed. “Certain media outlets and other groups stir controversy by twisting the narrative instead of reporting on the bigger picture. The spin can be put on any topic when information is purposely left out because some journalists have a history of making judgments on something without having a clue, what had transpired behind the scenes to cause the friction in the first place.”
Despite Shearl claiming the budget increase has resulted in larger government and bigger salaries at the taxpayer’s expense, a full account of every penny increase can be found here.
Commissioner Shearl then turned to pointing the finger at “politics” in general.
“I do not desire to bring national politics into the local arenas, but unfortunately what happens in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. directly affects how Macon County operates,” said Commissioner Shearl.
Shearl contradicted his statement regarding not having any desire to bring national politics into the national area later during the meeting, when his reason for proposing a resolution to make the local school board election partisan was specifically because of state and national politics.
Shearl’s comments during the same meeting: “ “This is a much better picture in the state and national level. If it’s not, then why do we have almost half of the school district in North Carolina, not going to parks and races? It seems like that there is a much bigger problem in education beyond Macon County,” said Shearl.
Shearl then suggested that the Macon County Board of Education has limited power and authority over the education of Macon County children.
“And politics is in every breath that we take. And it just seems like the five school board members feel like it’s a direct tackle on them personally and also, what you’re doing for the kids, and it is not,” said Shearl. “We understand what you’re doing for the kids. But who sets the policies above and beyond the Macon County school system? That would be the question. These policies are handed down to the Macon County school system, and you follow those And you have very limited power when it comes to how the school system actually operates.””
Shearl did say that although he didn’t “desire to” bring national and state politics into the local arena, it has been an avoidable and offered the example of the ARPA funds which were provided from the federal government as part of the CONVID19 pandemic.
“One way that national politics affected Macon County recently was the ARPA funds,” said Shearl. “This board did not have a chance to discuss our options for use of these funds, which could have potentially gone towards helping our children, schools, rec parks, emergency service, maintenance facility, and anything else to help our entire county as a whole. It was suggested to the county manager to wait until his board could further discuss, but he insisted on bringing this project to the forefront to give yet another bonus to the employee from which he himself would also greatly benefit.”
Although Shearl’s comments implied that the board of commissioners were somehow forced to approve ARPA funding to be spent on bonuses for county employees, or that Roland presenting such a proposal was in someway out of the ordinary, the operational structure of Macon County actually requires it.
Macon County operates as a Manager-County style of government which means the county is run by a professional manager who is hired by the elected county board or commission. The manager is like the CEO of the county, responsible for day-to-day operations and implementing the policies set by the elected officials. This system aims to bring professional expertise and efficiency to local government.
Roland’s first proposal for spending the county’s ARPA funding to provide premium pay to all county employees was in line with the majority of local governments due to the very limited nature of how ARPA funds could be spent based on the four allowable categories: Responding to COVID-19 and Its Negative Economic Impact
Necessary Water, Wastewater, Stormwater, and Broadband Infrastructure.
The original October 2022 expenditure of ARPA funds was prior to Shearl being elected to the board of commissioners and based on the limited approved uses of the roughly $7 million, premium pay was the best possible expenditure method. The funding was approved to be retroactively given to all county employees who worked during the COVID19 pandemic and amounted to a $2 an hour bonus – or $80 a week for a 40 hr a week employee.
After the pandemic was declared over, Roland had to update the county’s policy regarding spending the ARPA funding to remain incompliant with the law. Roland presented the updated language to the board of commissioners, which at that point included Commissioner Shearl, at which point Commissioner Shearl spoke out against providing the remaining funds to county employees. The funding had already been approved a year prior to the new discussions and county employees were already expected to receive it, however, Shearl wanted to take the already approved bonuses away from county employees and consider using the remaining $1.8 million for other county needs such as one time expenditures for infrastructure improvements.
However, the “schools, rec parks, emergency service, maintenance facility, and anything else to help our entire county as a whole,” that Shearl suggested the funding could have been spent on if taken away from county employees, are not directly allowable expenses under the federal guidelines. Certain projects could be considered under the allowable Revenue Replacement category of funding, however Commissioner Shearl did not believe that category of funding was legally allowed.
Despite admitting he provided false information during the November meeting, which lead to the confrontation with the county manager, and despite citizens asking for a public apology because of his behavior toward Roland which was based on inaccurate information, Shearl finished his prepared speech by saying there will likely continue to be conflict on the board.
“The citizens of this county for things we cannot afford. You might love me and you might hate me, but I will always represent the taxpayers first and foremost, which is the task that this board all shares in common. If representing the taxpayers and being good stewards of the county’s assets by challenging the growth of government is not our common goal, then there will obviously be division on this board. “