November 21, 2012
Trust High Point
City Councilmember Mike Pugh to go out fighting somebody over something – and he is fighting High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton over the ownership of an Apple iPad the city issued Pugh earlier this year.
Pugh, who represents Ward 3, was defeated in November by former High Point
Mayor Judy Mendenhall, who will replace him when the new City Council is sworn in on Dec. 3, 2012.
Pugh's tenure on the council has been marked by fights with Boynton, the voting majority held together for years by Mayor Becky Smothers, individual councilmembers and just about anyone else within swinging distance. No one can accuse Pugh of not being pugnacious.
Mendenhall trounced Pugh, getting 56 percent of the vote, to Pugh's 44 percent. You might think that would pretty much end the matter, and that Pugh would go gently into that good night. But only if you didn't know Pugh.
Any councilmember has to pick and choose his battles – and Pugh has chosen an odd one for his last stand as a councilmember on his quirky principles.
After years in a technological wilderness, the City of High Point
this year issued city councilmembers with iPads – as Boynton wrote, in an email to councilmembers this week, "for the purpose of conducting City business as City Council Members."
City-owned iPads were issued to Councilmembers Bernita Sims, Foster Douglas, Britt Moore, Latimer Alexander and Pugh. Mayor Becky Smothers, and Councilmembers Chris Whitley, A.B Henley and Jim Corey bought their own iPads.
At the time, councilmembers were given the choice, if they left the City Council, to either turn the city iPads back in or to pay a depreciated cost for them – $300, as of November. Pugh chose to do neither.
Pugh called The Rhino Times World Headquarters this week spitting mad, saying he shouldn't have to return his iPad. Pugh and his arch-enemy on the City Council, Alexander, are the only two councilmembers with city-owned iPads leaving the City Council on Dec. 3. Sims was elected mayor, Douglas was reelected to the Ward 2 seat and Moore was reelected to one of the at-large seats.
According to Boynton, $300 was taken out of Alexander's and Pugh's last paycheck as payment for the iPads. Alexander said he is happy with the situation. Pugh, to put it mildly, said he isn't.
Pugh has a tall stack of reasons why he doesn't think he should have to pay for the iPad. They include:
1) Pugh is still a councilmember until Dec. 3, so charging him for the iPad was premature.
2) Pugh, unlike Alexander, Sims and some other councilmembers, hasn't taken city health insurance, saving the city some thousands of dollars.
3) Pugh said he hasn't charged the city for travel expenses for the last two years – he didn't feel right doing so, he said, given the bad economy. Pugh said rejecting those benefits should offset the cost of the iPad.
4) This one has Pugh more peeved than the others combined. Pugh said that that the city took the $300 out of his paycheck without his permission. Pugh said he contacted the office of North Carolina Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry, which backed up his contention that doing so is not kosher. "It's illegal," Pugh said.
In a Nov. 14, 2012 email to the entire City Council, Boynton notified the councilmembers of the Great iPad Debate and gave another reason for Pugh not returning the iPad – one that Pugh mentioned but didn't list as one of his major arguments.
"Mike Pugh has said that he does not intend to return the City-owned iPad at the end of his term as it contains personal information on it that cannot be erased, and that he also does not intend to pay the City for it," Boynton wrote. "Each of you know we cannot give City-owned property away just because someone may want us to. As a result of his statements to not return nor pay for the City-owned iPad, the $300.00 cost has been deducted from his pay."
Personal information on an iPad can be erased – and it is possible to separate city and private information on an iPad and back up the private information, although Apple Inc., as it tends to do to anyone trying to escape the Apple ecosystem, doesn't make it easy. But Alexander has the same situation, and doesn't seem worried about it.
According to Boynton, the five councilmembers who accepted city-owned iPads signed an agreement acknowledging the iPads were public property for public, not private, use, and that by accepting them, they agreed to return them at the end of their term unless they paid for them.
Boynton's email triggered an email storm among the other councilmembers. And, although the outgoing City Council still had important issues to handle before the new council was sworn in, the topic on all the councilmembers minds for the Monday, Nov. 19 Finance Committee and City Council meetings was Pugh's $300 iPad.
Boynton wrote that Pugh's iPad would be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting. Given that Pugh has argued for firing Boynton since he has been on the City Council, it's hard to imagine that Boynton didn't get a kick out of hitting "send" on his email, to which he attached Pugh's iPad-issuing agreement.
Smothers, however, said the councilmembers were issued the iPads under the same terms that city employees are issued computers.
"I don't think Strib is being vindictive," Smothers said. "Mike challenged the authority of the city manager to enforce the policy and Strib rightfully said, 'OK, let's see what the council determines is the right and just thing to do.'"
On Nov. 14, Alexander emailed the other councilmembers that he considers the iPad issue simple, and unconnected to the health insurance or travel expense reimbursement issues. Pugh has for years attacked Alexander for voting against providing councilmembers with city health insurance, yet accepting it after the other councilmembers approved it.
Alexander wrote that he has done much traveling to perform his duties as a councilmember and that he rarely charged the city for it.
"There is no understanding that unused travel can be used for anything other than approved and appropriate travel and if that does not occur then the money is simply replenished," Alexander wrote. "I do not believe that I or any other member is entitled to use these funds for any purpose other than travel directly related to City Council business. I don't believe this is a winning argument at Council or in the public's eye. I believe that the public trust us to act responsibly with their money and trust and to violate a signed agreement to return or repay will not play well."
On Nov. 16, Henley, who did not run for reelection and will be replaced as Ward 4 councilmember by Jay Wagner on Dec. 3, emailed the other councilmembers, "I'm unclear on where Mike's going with this as well."
Henley wrote, "With comparable ambiguity is why the City Manager would propose as a fallback, giving outgoing council members their IPads with the value added to their W-2 and why our city has a high dollar contract attorney administering clerical functions already provided for by policy per Latimer with no oversight or supervision per the Manager's earlier email explanation."...continued on page 2