NC Dems director resigns, denies harassment allegations
Posted April 15, 2012
Updated April 16, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. — The executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party resigned Sunday amid increasing frustrations and ire among party activists over high turnover at the party headquarters and harassment allegations there.
Jay Parmley, who became the top administrator last year after holding a similar post in South Carolina, submitted a resignation letter in which he vehemently denied harassing any party worker.
Party leaders raised concerns after e-mails began circulating in the media late last week that mentioned the allegations. The party has been guarded in directly addressing the substance of the allegations.
"Let me be clear: I have never harassed any employee at any time at the (state party) or in any other job," Parmley wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. Parmley added that the more than 1,000 people who have worked with him over the years "know this kind of behavior would be unconscionable to me."
The dustup following the emails led party activists meeting at county party conventions Saturday to call for the resignations of Parmley and party Chairman David Parker.
In accepting Parmley's resignation, Parker echoed Parmley's view that the allegations were becoming a political distraction, particularly in an election year. Parker didn't resign.
A Statesville attorney who said he's successfully prosecuted harassment and discrimination cases, Parker said it's his legal opinion "that there have not been grounds for termination for cause of Jay Parmley."
"In this political world of rushing to judgment and the presumption of guilt, however, my legal and personal opinion has been outweighed by this having become a political distraction and issue," Parker wrote.
Parmley's departure is the latest setback for a state party that has been coming to terms with Republicans controlling the state House and Senate for the first time in 140 years. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue surprised many in January by announcing she wouldn't seek re-election, forcing other Democrats to scramble to mount primary campaigns. Six Democrats are running in the May 8 primary.
Republicans are cautiously optimistic that former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, who narrowly lost to Perdue four years ago, will win the Executive Mansion for the GOP for the first time since the 1988 election.
The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte in less than five months.
"I refuse to be a distraction," Parmley wrote, adding that his presence at the state party would "only distract from the important work of electing Democrats up and down the ticket in 2012 in North Carolina. It is unfortunate that a smear spread by entities hostile to Democrats perpetuated this false story."
Democratic officials had been speaking privately for weeks about why personnel changes occurred at the state party offices in downtown Raleigh.
A series of email messages disclosed publicly Friday raised the level of discomfort among party activists, who pleaded for more information from the party in the interest of full disclosure. After a right-leaning blog posted the emails Friday afternoon, Parker released a terse statement, most of which he reiterated Sunday while accepting Parmley's resignation.
"Over the last several months, several employees left their employment with the NCDP for business or professional reasons unrelated to their job performance, by mutual agreement of the parties involved," Parker said.
The state Democratic party has seen significant turnover in recent months. Several workers joined candidate campaigns. Another longtime office administrator stepped down.
Parker said he couldn't comment on any specific allegations on the advice of counsel but said, "There have never been any complaints or allegations concerning Jay Parmley before or since the matter."
Hayes McNeill, a member of the state party's Executive Committee, said Parker needs to take a hard look at whether he can continue as chairman because of how the situation has been handled. Transparency is needed from party leaders, he said.
"You have to realize the offense is not the problem," said McNeill, a former Forsyth County party chairman. He added, "There was a deficiency in supervision, management that allowed this thing to blossom out."
Through a party spokesman, Parker said Sunday night: "I have no plans to resign."