The executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party resigned this month amid increasing frustrations among party activists over high turnover at the party headquarters and harassment allegations.
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 emails began circulating in the media that mentioned the allegations. The party has been guarded in directly addressing the substance of the allegations, but conservative media outlets have reported that a young man who worked for the party alleged sexual harassment and a 29-year-old woman who worked for the party claimed she was Parmley’s girlfriend and he transmitted HIV.
In his resignation letter, Parmley wrote, “Let me be clear: I have never harassed any employee at any time at the (state party) or in any other job.”
He said 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 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, N.C., 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.
North Carolina plays a significant role in the 2012 election:
• A ballot measure on May 8 will determine whether the state becomes the last in the South to add an anti-gay marriage amendment to its constitution or the first to refuse such a measure.
• The Democratic National Convention will take place in Charlotte in early September.
• On election day in November, North Carolina is likely to become a battleground for the presidential vote.
Parmley, in his letter, said, “I refuse to be a distraction.”
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 raised the level of discomfort among party activists, who pleaded for more information from the party in the interest of full disclosure. After a conservative-leaning website posted the emails, Parker released a terse statement.
“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.
Parker said he couldn’t comment on any specific allegations on the advice of counsel but added, “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. He added, “There was a deficiency in supervision, management that allowed this thing to blossom out.”
State Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, a gubernatorial candidate who lost to Parker in the race for state party chairman in early 2011, suggested Parker should follow Parmley’s lead “on behalf of the 2.7 million Democrats in N.C. so that we can get on with the primary election without further distraction.”
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