Heads almost roll in Health Department

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Director’s hasty firing threats, later rescinded to ‘Administrative Leave’

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BAYBORO – A routine ‘webinar’ (cyberspeak for video instruction that arrives over an Internet connection) turned testy last Thursday, April 14, when Dennis Harrington, director of the Pamlico County Health Department, threatened to fire two veteran employees, Tammy Rodriguez and Vanessa Jackson.

Rodriguez, who has both a Masters degree in Public Health and an MBA, is responsible for inspecting all food service operations. She signs the “Sanitation Grade” certificate, which must be prominently posted in every restaurant – making her signature perhaps the most visible ‘John Hancock’ in Pamlico County.


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Jackson, well known in the community, is the receptionist and administrative staffer for Environment Health. That section is housed on the first floor of the Bayboro courthouse, in a large office that also accommodates the Emergency Management Office and the Building Inspections Department.

Rodriguez and Jackson were not interviewed for this story. Insiders familiar with the incident say both women hope to return to their full-time jobs, hopefully exonerated of any wrongdoing. They do not want to comment, for fear of retribution.

Those same sources describe morale among many Health Department employees as “so bad you wouldn’t believe it.’

Reports gleaned from a number of people indicate Harrington apparently became incensed during the webinar when “he saw one of them texting, and the other one was not taking notes like he thought they ought to be doing.”

Harrington later said to one, if not both, of the women: “You’re going to resign or I’m going to fire you by noon.”

In the hours that followed, at least two county commissioners either called or corralled Harrington – who is under paid contract to Pamlico County for his services, and is not technically an employee. When cooler heads prevailed, Harrington agreed to go along with a less severe disciplinary action known as “Administrative Leave” – but only after Rodriguez and Jackson each returned to work on Friday, April 15, demanding either a letter or formal notice of any threatened termination or disciplinary action.

A group of local citizens – appointed by the Pamlico County Commissioners – comprise an entity known as the Board of Health, charged with the oversight of Harrington and of other public health matters.

This newspaper has e-mailed questions and public information requests to both Pamlico County Manager Tim Buck and to Harrington. However, by press time of this newspaper, neither man had responded. One source indicated that Administrative Leave for both Rodriguez and Jackson is in effect thru the end of April.

Personnel matters – particularly those that involve government employees – seldom see the light of day in North Carolina, where existing state law treats most disciplinary actions as off limits to public scrutiny.

For those who may have more information about this episode, we invite them to e-mail their comments to: jeff@compasssnews360.com This newspaper will, under no circumstances, reveal the names or any other information about those who respond.

One courthouse source was blunt in an assessment of the situation:

“Dennis leads by intimidation,” said the person. “You’re scared to speak up, and if you do, you’re out of there. Tammy has too many feathers (credentials) in her hat. They look at her as being a threat to the department’s current leadership.”

Mission Statement
Promote the optimal health of Pamlico County residents through high quality professional services, to foster public Trust, to minimize identified public health risks and to ensure the safety of the environment for future generations.