Stokes let go as head of parks and rec

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By John Barnhart

    Monday was Michael Stokes’ last day as the county’s director of parks and recreation.
    “Tuesday [Sept. 10] morning I was told by the county administrator that the board had decided to terminate me effective yesterday,” Stokes said in a Tuesday morning phone interview.
    Stokes said that Mark Reeter, the county administrator, told him that he had been directed to do this by the board of supervisors and that this was discussed in a closed session that the supervisors held at the end of their Sept. 9 meeting.
    Board members, however, said no discussion about his position occurred during that meeting.
    Why was he terminated?
    “The closest thing to a reason was the board wanted to go in a new direction,” Stokes replied, when asked that question. “As a department head, they do not have to give me a reason.”
    Did he see this coming?
    “No, not at all,” Stokes said.
    Stokes plans to stay in the area and may retire here, noting that he has more than 30 years of public service behind him.
    “And, I’ll still be a strong advocate for parks and recreation,” he said.
    Stokes said that he plans to look for volunteer opportunities and is open to doing volunteer work for the parks and recreation department. He’s also looking forward to going on some of the parks and rec department sponsored trips.
    “I’ll try to be involved in the community as much as I can be,” Stokes said.
    Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Steve Arrington denied taking action to terminate Stokes, or discussing this in the Sept. 9 closed session.
    “The only people we hire is the county administrator and the county attorney,” Arrington said.
    “We do not fire anybody except the county administrator and the county attorney,” he added.
    Arrington said the decision to fire a department head is an administrative decision that the county administrator makes on his own.
    District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek also denied discussing any personnel matters during the Sept. 9 closed meeting. Cheek said the closed session was not called for the purpose of discussing a personnel matter. He also said that they did not take a vote after they came out of the closed session, other than to certify that they only discussed matters that they could legally discuss behind closed doors.
    “Mark Reeter takes care of all that,” District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin said.
    Martin said that one reason they hired Reeter is that he had a reputation for running a lean staff. When he was hired, Reeter was instructed to streamline county staff as he saw fit. According to Martin, the only direction Reeter got from the supervisors was to eliminate anything that wasn’t needed or wasn’t working.
    “He’s tough,” said Martin, adding that Reeter does not have any “buddy system” when it comes to county staff.
    Martin said he first learned of Stokes’ dismissal through an e-mail Reeter sent out informing the supervisors.
    “I took it for granted  that something needed to happen,” Martin said of his reaction to the e-mail.
    Martin said that Monday night’s closed session was held to discuss property. He said the supervisors also reviewed what Reeter had done since he was hired.
    “I cannot comment on that,” said District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson, when asked about Stokes. “It is a personnel issue and I cannot comment in regard to this issue.”
    Did they discuss any personnel issues when they went into closed session?
    “We did go into closed session and we did discuss some personnel issues,” said Thomasson. “That is all I can say at this time.”
    Wyatt Woody, the parks and recreation department’s athletics coordinator, is minding the store at the parks and rec department’s office.
    “I’ve been informed that I am the interim [director],” Woody said.
    County Administrator Mark Reeter could not be reached for comment. He was out of town Monday and had not returned calls on Tuesday by the time the Bulletin went to press.