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Meck Payout Includes Legal Settlement For Mental Health Director

Last week, Mecklenburg County officials said a $99,000 payment to the county's former mental health director was for accrued sick leave and unused vacation time. Turns out, there's more to the story. The amount includes a legal settlement of $63,000 for Grayce Crockett, who resigned after a federal audit found her department mismanaged a housing program for the mentally ill. Ames Alexander of the Charlotte Observer has been investigating the story. He spoke to WFAE's Mark Rumsey. Mark: Why did the Observer question the $99,000 payment that Mecklenburg County made to Grayce Crockett after she resigned late last year? Ames: Way back in early January, we began asking county officials for information about Ms. Crockett's post-resignation pay, and then it wasn't until February 1st that we heard from a deputy county attorney that Crockett's total compensation post-resignation was 99,000 for vacation and accrued sick time, and I guess the fact that it took so long for them to answer the question made me a little bit more skeptical about the whole thing, and when I finally got the full county policy on paying accrued sick time and vacation time and then compared that to how long Ms. Crockett had been on the job, it became very clear that she couldn't have racked up that much time in accrued sick time and vacation time. Mark: So, what happened after that? Ames: So we asked then top county officials, in email basically doing the math and saying that it looked as though Ms. Crockett could not have collected more than 50,000 for unused sick time and vacation, even if she had never taken a single day of vacation or sick time; so we asked, you know, how could this be? So we didn't get any response at all on Monday, but then on Tuesday, I started talking to some of the commissioners who began hearing from the county manager, Harry Jones, that, well, in fact a chunk of this $99,000 actually was as part of a legal settlement to Ms. Crockett. And the summary that Jennifer Roberts, the chairman of the County Commission, put out yesterday, she said that they essentially decided to pay this money out and call it additional vacation and sick leave. Mark: Ames, many people reading or hearing the account of this might feel that the county was putting out information that just wasn't accurate, and people might feel that they were deceived. Ames: Well, I can certainly understand why some people may be feeling that, and I think some of the county commissioners have similar questions right now. Several of them I know are now asking, you know, why were we not told about this legal payment until yesterday, and why did the county staff essentially let this story percolate out there for several days without telling people that a big chunk of this $99,000 was actually for legal payment? Mark: In the county commission you mentioned, they didn't need to approve this settlement? Ames: That's a good question, and one I'm trying to find out the answer to now. I've recently, just today in fact, seen a document that raises some questions about that, and so I'm trying to get the answer to that. Mark: Well, Ames Alexander, with the Charlotte Observer, thanks for talking with us. Ames: Oh, thanks so much.