Rhyne told EDP board members of her resignation at their meeting on Wednesday, according to EDP Board Chairman Ted Ashby, although it would appear she was already on her way out at least as early as Monday. That evening Ashby met in closed session with Surry County Commissioners. The commissioners took no action related to that meeting in open session.
“This is obviously a personnel matter and even though it wasn’t made official, discussions were had before we went to the county commissioners,” Ashby said Friday, after the resignation was announced by a fax sent to The Mount Airy News from the EDP.
The partnership board did not inform The News of the Wednesday meeting. Ashby said recently the board was not required to make such notification, and he contends the partnership meetings are not open to the public or media.
On Friday, he would not say if Rhyne was asked to step down. She had been under fire of late, particularly since Mount Airy lost out on an Aerial Machine and Tool expansion that landed in Patrick County, across the border in Virginia. Officials with that firm said Virginia was “more competitive and more aggressive” in pursuing the project, and they expressed disappointment in their project’s reception by Surry County economic development officials.
Jim Harrell III, who was the 90th House District representative in the North Carolina General Assembly at that time, even said during a candidate’s forum last fall that county officials never contacted him for assistance in recruiting the firm, and he didn’t know of the missed opportunity until reading about it in the newspaper.
Last month, the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted to withhold funding from the EDP until representatives from the board could meet with the EDP.
Although no one on the commissioners nor the EDP board would comment specifically on why Rhyne stepped down, Johnson hinted at it.
“I believe this (the withholding of funds) did come about because there was a difference in opinion between the county and the partnership on their leadership,” he said in a Friday afternoon phone interview.
Rhyne has led the economic development agency for about four years. She declined to comment when contacted by telephone Friday.
“Robin has made important contributions in recruiting industry to our county, as well as providing support for existing industry,” Ashby said in the Friday fax sent to The News. “The Partnership board wishes her well in her future endeavors.”
Chris Knopf, assistant county manager for economic development and tourism, will provide interim management, Ashby said. “We talked it over with (County Manager) Dennis Thompson and he said that we could just use Chris Knopf until we could find a permanent replacement,” he said, although it was not immediately clear when the EDP board had that conversation with Thompson.
Knopf has been a member of the Partnership since his selection to lead the county’s economic and tourism development efforts in 2007.
The Partnership, which consists of representatives from local business and industry and municipal and county government officials, plans to begin the recruiting process quickly, Ashby said.
“Both the public and private sectors agree on the urgency of identifying and hiring the most qualified individual available to help us improve both the level and the quality of employment in Surry County,” Ashby said. He said the board hopes to have a replacement within three to six months.
Surry County Board of Commissioner’s Chairman Craig Hunter sent an e-mail when asked for comment that said: “The BOCC appreciates Robin Rhyne’s service and commitment to Surry County over the past few years as the SCEDP president. The BOCC wishes Robin the best on the pursuit of her new endeavors.”
Commission Bill Hamlin would not comment on the resignation, and Commissioner Jim Harrell Jr. did not immediately return a phone call to comment on the matter.