The International City/County Management Association has found that Durham County Manager Wendell Davis did not violate the organization’s code of conduct when he wrote a letter to a county commissioner accusing her of having an inherent bias toward him and people of color.

In a confidential July 1 letter to Davis, ICMA ethics advisor Jessica Cowles wrote that the agency’s committee on professional conduct “ultimately voted to close the case finding your conduct in the matter did not violate the ICMA code of ethics

The ICMA’s decision comes after Wendy Jacobswho chairs the Durham County Board of Commissioner, announced on April 27 that the agency, along with an independent counsel would determine whether Davis sought to interfere in the March 3 primary election by writing a letter accusing Commissioner Heidi Carter of racism. One part of the investigation reviewed the letter sent by Davis, while a second investigation would probe “the actions that the county manager took in the way that he sent the letter as it relates to the International County Managers Association code of ethics, and the N.C. general statutes related to the conduct of a professional executive, and about whether there were possible violations of interference with elections.”

Jacobs declined to comment when asked about the ICMA’s decision last week.

Davis’s letter, written on February 11, was first reported by the INDY on February 18. Carter denied the allegations, calling Davis’s claims “baseless” and saying his letter contained “misquotes and fabrications.”  She and supporters claimed that the letter served two purposes: retaliation for her criticism of his performance and to influence the outcome of the upcoming primary. The commissioners who were elected would determine whether to renew Davis’s contract next year.

ICMA officials launched their investigation after someone sent an anonymous complaint to the agency about Davis’s letter to Carter.

Cowles with the ICMA, outlined the anonymous complaint’s concerns in her July 1 letter to Davis. Davis was accused of not following the county employee grievance policies and procedures. The anonymous complaint also claimed that the county manager did not speak with the board of commissioners to enable them to begin their own investigation, but instead “chose to write a letter that was quickly leaked to the press.”

The complaint also criticized Davis for speaking to reporters and doing “on-camera interviews about the highly sensitive personnel allegation,” and echoed Jacobs’ and other commissioners’ concerns that his “timing in writing the letter may have interfered with [the county commissioners’] upcoming primary election.”

“The CPC,” Cowles wrote to Davis in the July 1 letter, “accepted your explanation [that] you wrote the letter to encourage Ms. Carter to reflect how her pattern of statements had impacted you with your hope there would be positive change by sharing your candid observations.

Cowles also noted that the committee “understands it was not your intention for [the letter] to be made public as evidenced by your sending it to her personal, not public email address.”

“You said you did not share the letter with the media but once it became a subject of public discussion, you decided to offer your perspective on your experiences that led to writing the letter in a media interview,” Cowles added.

From the onset of Davis’s letter being made public, County Commissioner Brenda Howerton supported the county manager and insisted “Heidi Carter is not the victim.”

“I am pleased to know there we no findings of ethics violations, as it relates to the IMCA,” Howerton told the INDY. “It is important to continue to focus on the needs of our community, to name a few: safety, wellness, education, equity, and economics.”

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One reply on “Durham’s County Manager Did Not Violate Its Code of Ethics with Letter Accusing a Commissioner of Racism”

  1. HAS A HUGE CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER. He cannot understand the hierarchy of authority.

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