IN MY OPINION –
While reading this post please remember the Town Manager of a Municipality is the person who is responsible for the town budget. This past June our Town Manager Hazen Blodgett decided taxes needed to be increased which was approved by the Town Board. Within the 2018/2019 town budget he also budgeted his salary increase and this year was his largest ever since his employment in June 2003. On August 27, 2018 Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners Jeff Miller, John Higdon, John Urban, Chris Melton, Kress Query and Barbara Dement approved his salary increase of 6% bringing his annual salary from $139,050.00 to $147,000.00 an increase of $7,950.00.
In Matthews the Town Manager is the only person hired, other than the Town Attorney. Excluding 2009/2010 fiscal year Matthews Town Manager Hazen Blodgett has received a salary increase every year since his employment in 2003 and in 2011/2012 he did receive a economic recovery stipend. Mr. Blodgett also receives insurance that includes, State Health Plan, BCBS, Enhanced 80/20 for employee/child(ren) and a employer contribution per month. A salary contribution to 401k and Local Government retirement, a $85.00 monthly cell phone allowance and lastly a $350.00 monthly automobile allowance.
Within Mr. Blodgett’s contract Section 11 – Automobile Allowance it states, “Employee agrees to use his personal automobile in performing the duties of Manager of the Town of Matthews” Okay, the current IRS rate is 54.5 cents per mile for any employee should they use their personal car for town business. “and Employer agrees to pay the sum of $350.00 each month to cover the cost of this automobile within the Centralina Council of Governments (CCOG) area. Use of the Employee’s personal vehicle outside of the CCOG area shall be reimbursed at the normal Town rate.”
What is the CCOG? “Centralina Council of Governments is located in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina and encompasses nine counties” and 60 municipalities “representing almost two million people and headquartered in the City of Charlotte. The “CCOG policies and goals are set by a Board of Delegates, which is composed of over 60 elected officials from the counties, cities and towns throughout the region. The Board of Delegates meetings provide a platform for discussion of shared issues and also provide a forum for local governement to address issues best handled through regional cooperation, planning and actions.” The CCOG region referred to within Mr. Blodgett’s contract includes Iredell, Rowan, Lincoln, Gaston, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Stanley, Union and Anson Counties. On December 12, 2010 Commissioner Jeff Miller was appointed to serve on the Board of Delegates for the Town of Matthews, meaning he is to attend CCOG meetings. The Board of Delegates meet four times a year, the Executive Board meets six per year.
Town Manager Hazen Blodgett was employed by the Town of Matthews on June 23, 2003. For the past fifteen years he has received the $350.00 monthly automobile allowance which brings this total to $63,000.00. That’s $4,200.00 per year @ 15 years = $63,000.00. I requested a list of CCOG meetings attended by Mr. Blodgett for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 he responded with “I do not attend the CCOG Board meetings. Jeff Miller is the town’s rep and has been for several years. I recall attending one annual CCOG Board meeting several years ago. The CCOG is the convener for regional manager’s meetings six times a year +/_. I estimate I make three of these a year. I have been on the CCOG’s executive director search committee three times.” So, according to Mr. Blodgett he has attended one (1) annual CCOG meeting “several years ago” and he “estimates” he makes three (3) manager’s meetings a year. In order to make sure I understood correctly there was a follow-up. (Mr. Blodgett’s response in blue) 1. You do not attend the CCOG’s Executive or Board of Delegate Meetings and have not for several years. Correct? ” I am not a member of the CCOG Board, so there is no need for me to attend Board meetings.” 2. Would this be the norm for the past 15 years? “Yes.” 3. Could you please explain your participation for the CCOG’s executive director search committee. “During my tenure in Matthews there have been 3 searches for the CCOG directors. Each time they have asked me to serve on the search committee.” 4. Why and how often do you travel within the CCOG region? “My guess is one time per week to once every ten days I travel to somewhere in the CCOG area” 5. Are you able to provide documentation of your travels? “I do not keep any records.”
What?! No records kept? In July 2019 Mr. Blodgett’s contract will be up for renewal and he will have received a total of $67,200.00 of taxpayer funds and the Town of Matthews nor the Board of Commissioners require Mr. Blodgett to provide documentation of his travels? Where’s the transparency and accountability in this? Is this looking out for the citizens of Matthews. After all, this vehicle allowance is funded by taxpayer dollars. I responded again, Do you know the last region you traveled and why? Again, why do you travel within the CCOG’s region, what is the purpose? Are your travels during town business hours and is town staff made aware of where you will be traveling and that you are not in office? Why are records not kept by you or the town when you travel for the CCOG? Town Manager Hazen Blodgett responded with, “Ms. Hoover – The Town pays me a $350 per month travel allowance to travel within the 9 county region (CCOG area) for town business. Anything outside the 9 county area for town business the Town reimburses me the IRS rate, which is 54.5 cents per mile. thanks, Hazen.” I guess I hit a nerve.
In effort to learn if our tax dollars are being spent wisely I contacted the CCOG. I wanted to know if there was a attendance sheet or a listing of anyone who attends the meetings, I learned there is not one they only track attendance for appointed Delegates and Alternates at Board meetings. I continued with asking, why and how often would a town manager of a municipality travel within the CCOG region, they had no answer. No surprise there, the CCOG needs membership funds. The CCOG region includes Iredell, Rowan, Lincoln, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Sanley, Union and Anson and as of August 2, 2018 includes 60 members of the CCOG Board of Delegates. In the June 13, 2018 CCOG Executive Board meeting minutes it is noted that the Town of Indian Trail sent a letter to the CCOG “expressing their intent to withdraw from the CCOG.” After contacting Town Manager Patrick Sadek of Indian Trail as to why, he responded with “The Town did not see any Town benefits as being a member.”
From 2015-2018 membership fees for the CCOG have cost the citizens of Matthews $29,039.88 and our Town Manager Hazen Blodgett cannot provide documentation of when he has attended anything for the CCOG. He can only guess. In Mr. Blodgett’s defense, I can say, when I requested “all” paid invoice’s for the CCOG from 2015-2018 there were two receipts included that show in 2015 a contribution of $115.00 went toward a luncheon for six managers meetings in 2016 and in 2017 a Regional Managers’ and Mayors’ meeting costing $200.00. So, we can assume he attended these meetings. Let’s take a moment and look at the six manager luncheon’s that cost the citizens $115.00. If Mr. Blodgett attended these six (6) meetings. The Centralina Council of Governments (CCOG) is located at 525 North Tryon Street, 12th Floor Charlotte, NC. According to MapQuest that is approximately 23 miles one way from the town hall. Twenty-three (23) x 54.5 current IRS rate = $12.54. Round trip total $25.08. Times six (6) meetings equal’s a grand total of $150.48 for the year. Don’t forget Mr. Blodgett receives $350.00 monthly that’s $4,200.00 yearly. With all this being said, the citizens of Matthews could have also been spared this burden. How? We have town vehicles bought and paid for by town funds which are available for use by our Town Manager Hazen Blodgett.
Lastly, I would also like to point out that in Mr. Blodgett’s contract it also states in Section 12 Vacation and Sick Leave, “Employer agrees to credit Employee with three hundred, ninety-nine (399) hours of sick leave (accumulated with the City of Whiteville) to be used only in accord with the Town of Matthews Personnel Policy or in connection with retirement benefits and for no other purpose.” Doesn’t this just make you feel all warm and cozy inside to know that we (citizens of Matthews) get to cover this cost.
FYI – not only were our taxes increased in the Town of Matthews, but the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted to increase Mecklenburg County taxes.
Thank you for supporting MATTHEWS WATCH and please remember to tell your friends and neighbors. Thank you. Gina Hoover