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Cave given choice: ‘Resign or be terminated’

The departed director of economic development said Wednesday that she was given the choice to “resign or be terminated.”

In an e-mail to the Economic Development Authority members that she also sent to the News-Herald, Cynthia Cave said that Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts and Human Resources Director Ronnie Charles visited her office on Thursday. Roberts, Cave said, told her “this is not a good fit,” and named a number of issues regarding her performance, including:

Cave wrote that Roberts “took offense” when she passed along negative feedback about the city’s development process from disgruntled business and property owners, even though she says she explained that the customers were doing them a favor by pointing out opportunities for improvement.

She also said Roberts accused her of using the budget process to downsize or demote staff, even though she submitted the required 10 percent cut recommendation to city management. It was the administration that cut the economic development budget by 37 percent.

Cave also wrote that Roberts, whom she never calls by name in the e-mail, blamed her for a lease in Northgate Commerce Park between construction company ProLogis and composite product provider Sparta not being ready to go. “If the Sparta deal falls through, it will not be because of me, but rather due to the economy,” Cave wrote.

Throughout her employment of nearly seven months, Roberts never offered any concerns about her performance except for the Thursday meeting, Cave wrote.

Finally, Cave said, Roberts offered her the choice to resign or be terminated – either choice would result in Thursday being the last day of her employment.

City spokeswoman Debbie George said that the city does not comment on personnel matters as a matter of policy.

New EDA member James Shirley, however, said the city should either confirm or deny Cave’s accusations.

“It’s something that the public needs to know,” Shirley said. “If they confirm it, there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered … I think the citizens need to know, did that meeting take place, and did it take place as she alleges.”

Some other members of the Economic Development Authority were reticent when asked for comment on Cave’s departure.

“I don’t have any more comment that I’ve previously said,” said EDA chairman James H. Faulk, adding that he hadn’t had a chance to read the e-mail yet. “I hope that everything goes well for her.”

EDA member Art Collins referred questions to Faulk and to George.

“I’m reluctant to comment on something I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of,” Collins said.

Former Suffolk mayor Andy Damiani, a downtown advocate, said it concerns him to see two economic development leaders leaving in a short period of time. Cave’s predecessor, Tom O’Grady, left the office just as abruptly as Cave in July 2008, after 12 years on the job.

“It’s got to weaken the association when you have somebody a dozen years and a second person comes in and they don’t stay,” Damiani said. “That concerns me from the business point of view.”

Damiani added that Suffolk will never have a problem getting businesses simply because it is located in the path of growth coming from the east, but needs direction in bringing the best businesses.

“You need a strong department to help manage what you get and the quality of business you get,” he said. “It’s not good for the city having such a turnover.”