By WECT Staff | February 10, 2021 at 10:55 AM EST – Updated February 10 at 5:19 PM
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Former New Hanover County health director Phillip Tarte was fired due to “unresolved patterns of leadership and performance failures” and was “derelict in his duties” as one of the county’s top health officials, according to a separation letter obtained by WECT.
In the letter, dated Jan. 27, Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko outlines the issues that had been ongoing with the former health director since at least 2019.
Several examples are listed including periods of absence during the workday, missing meetings or being late to them, and the inability to administer the vaccine process.
Tarte had a history of disciplinary issues in the past, according to the letter. In November of 2019, a pre-dismissal hearing was held and Tarte was given the opportunity to correct ‘performance deficiencies,’ according to the letter.
In March of 2020, when the pandemic began to take off in the country, Assistant County Manager Kathy Stoute scheduled a pre-dismissal hearing with Tarte, but according to County Manager Chris Coudriet, that meeting had to be canceled to focus on the pandemic.
“As a result of your lack of attention, preparedness, and responsiveness, I had to assemble a team to develop the necessary plans for preparedness. Based on what our community was facing with the pandemic at that time, I instructed Ms. Stoute to cancel the second pre-dismissal hearing. We simply could not lose our public health focus by shifting attention to the performance deficiencies of the public health director while in the midst of the pandemic,” Coudriet wrote.
In August of 2020, yet another pre-dismissal hearing was held at which time the county manager decided that a significant salary reduction was appropriate.
“Given your unresolved performance deficiencies over the last year, including the most recent incident that led to your pre-dismissal hearing with me, it is my determination that the midpoint salary more than adequately reflects your current value and contributes to the organization,” he said.
During that hearing, Tarte stated at that hearing he was aware of his ‘failures in performance’ and he was the ‘best health director in North Carolina.’
“While you might believe you are the best health director in North Carolina, measurements use by New Hanover County to evaluate your performance have proven you are not capable of performing the duties of the position as expected,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Fayko said the rest of the staff has been working hard and will continue their work responding to the pandemic.
“It is unfortunate that we had to part ways with Mr. Tarte and I wish him the best in his future endeavors. Our Public Health team will continue to lead our community toward better health and wellness. They are dedicated to the community and our health initiatives, and since February of 2020 have done incredible work in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am eager to move forward, with a continued focus of serving every single person in our community.”
WECT was unable to reach Phillip Tarte for comment on Wednesday, but left a message for him with a relative who answered the phone. Before coming to New Hanover County, Tarte served as Union County Health Director. Officials there said he did not have any suspensions or demotions during his nine years of service to their county, and was making $108,311 when he resigned to take the job in New Hanover County in 2016.
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