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County manager prospect courting commission

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In local politics, he may be the most powerful man you've never heard of, and you won't cast a vote in his name.

Right now, the Chatham County Commission is deciding who will replace Russ Abolt as Chatham County Manager. Abolt is retiring after 26 years with the county.

Commission Chairman Al Scott has nominated William Lee Smith III – former county manager for Wayne Count, North Carolina – to take Abolt's place.

Smith resigned from Wayne County in February, with the Wayne County commission approving a $325,000 severance.

Smith's exit from Wayne County has raised questions, mostly focused on $500,000 in overpayments to employees a private accounting firm found while Smith worked for Wayne.

According to July Wayne County Commission meeting minutes, auditors found that 600 employees had been overpaid, with one employee getting $10,000 more than he earned.

One commissioner called for Smith's resignation.

"I have lost all trust and confidence in the county manager Lee Smith," Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery says in a video of the commission meeting posted on YouTube.

Smith spent Monday and Tuesday sitting down with Chatham County commissioners.

And Chatham's famously fiscally conservative Commissioner Dean Kicklighter said he discussed those overpayments with Smith.

"I was personally satisfied with the answers that he gave," Kicklighter said. "It's nice to throw someone in who has actually run a smaller government and knows how to not just toss your dollars out the window."

In August, Daughtery, who had weeks before called for Smith to be fired, publicly apologized in a Wayne County Commission meeting for letting  emotions get the better of him.

"It would be in the best interest of our county that we proceed with our current management," Daughtery said.

Smith wasn't answering questions about the overpayment issue Tuesday night, except to say the $500,000 figure was overblown and that all would be explained in a news conference with the county scheduled for Thursday.

The Chatham County manager's job pays between $175,000 and $200,000. The county commission will vote on the hiring April 11.

Smith began working in government service in 1987 and headed up an economic development nonprofit before serving as county manager in Washington County, N.C., then Wayne County.


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