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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dismissal letter for PCU’s Cedric Harrison cites list of performance issues, misuse of county property

A local violence prevention leader’s last day working for New Hanover County was Monday after he was let go from the position. (Alexandria Sands Williams/Port City Daily)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A local violence prevention leader’s last day working for New Hanover County was Monday.

County spokesperson Alex Riley said Port City United director Cedric Harrison was dismissed after “an extended introductory period.” The letter informing Harrison he was being let go Monday morning, signed by assistant county manager Tufanna Bradley, alleges poor performance, insubordination and misuse of county property as grounds for the dismissal.

READ MORE: Port City United’s staff of 40 tackling high-risk areas of community to ‘save lives’

A county employee serves anywhere from six to 12 months in an introductory period. According to the dismissal letter, Bradley, to whom Harrison reported, extended it twice: once in September and again in December.

“As we are approaching 11 months of your employment and recognizing that an introductory period cannot go beyond 12 months, your continued leadership and performance deficiencies that I have repeatedly addressed with you are still of great concern,” Bradley wrote.

Riley said an employee may be terminated at any time during an introductory period if not performing assigned duties satisfactorily. 

Since Harrison was still within that window, he cannot appeal the decision.

In the letter, Bradley noted Harrison’s performance “has not reached a level that is expected from a department head or anyone entrusted with the responsibilities” of the position. She added that he lacked good judgment, one of the main reasons the county hired and invested in an “outside coach” to assist Harrison in his role.

Bradley specified violations to county policy that continued to go unaddressed, including a lack of understanding financial responsibilities, not creating and sharing reports and data related to PCU, ensuring timeliness, punctuality and attendance on the job, and utilizing county time to conduct outside business.

Insubordination also was cited in the letter. On Feb. 3 internal emails show Bradley asked Harrison to submit an outside employment request form she had been seeking since October.

A Wilmingtonian, Harrison is best known for founding Support the Port, a local nonprofit aimed at advancing racial equity. He also launched the WilmingtoNColor shuttle tour, which educates riders on African American’s legacy in Wilmington and the 1898 racial coup — the only successful coup in U.S. history.

In June, Melody Harkness recommended to the Support the Port board that Harrison move into a board seat position to avoid any conflict of interest with PCU, according to emails obtained by PCD.

Harrison also recently submitted time off for a week in March to work half days. It’s the same week Support the Port hosts a “reparations week” with scheduled events, according to flyers posted to Harrison’s personal social media page.

Bradley noted in the dismissal letter that Harrison used PCU’s social media page to promote his outside projects. He also received Zoom meeting requests regarding his nonprofits in his county email account while on the clock for PCU.

Other complaints lodged entailed Harrison trying to circumvent Bradley’s authority to replace the department’s iPads with laptops after she told him no. On Jan. 15 she said a witness spotted him driving a county vehicle for personal use — to go to a restaurant — and transported a child in the vehicle the same day. 

Harrison allegedly used a county-issued bank card to buy a birthday card from Amazon for a business partner and accessed county funds to “create a banner that not only included the PCU logo, but also contained a collage of photos of individuals, where one of them made an inappropriate and offensive gesture. The banner was hung in the public reception area of the PCU suite,” according to the letter.

The county hired Harrison — who previously worked as an assistant coordinator helping underrepresented populations of students reach graduation at Cape Fear Community College — in March 2022. His PCU starting salary was $118,000, which increased to over $128,000 in July, due to cost-of-living and market increases offered to all county employees.

New Hanover County funded $2.6 million over four years to start PCU, which follows a Cure Violence model. It hires “violence interrupters” who go into neighborhoods and intervene in conflicts before they escalate to shots fired. The Cure Violence model started originally in Chicago and has been implemented in cities across the nation, including Durham.

PCU offices opened on Chestnut Street in January after months of renovations that cost more than $650,000.

Harrison was the first to lead the charge of the department, appointed not even a month after being injured in a drive-by shooting. On Feb. 6, 2022, he went to the hospital after he and three others, including a 6- and 16-year-old, were struck by gunfire. Family and friends had gathered to celebrate the life of Devin Williams, who was shot and killed the month prior at the same location on 31st Street.

In September, Harrison presented to commissioners progress made within the first six months of PCU. Under his tenure, Harrison helped launch PCU Connect — a 24/7 hotline to connect residents with needed resources — assisted displaced Wilmington Housing Authority families signing up for the county’s rental assistance program, pushed for safer neighborhoods with new road light installation, grew the PCU staff to at least 40, and coordinated with stakeholders in the community for partnerships with PCU.

Emails show Harrison organized a Stop the Violence event to be held during Azalea Festival, April 15. Festival executive director Alison Baringer wrote the association would promote the event but would not provide funding or add formal visits from the festival’s celebrity attendees.

On Friday Bradley requested a meeting with Harrison for Monday, Feb. 13, at 8:30 a.m., emails indicate.

The county sent a notice to media outlets Monday afternoon regarding his termination; Port City Daily reached out to Harrison for comment but did not hear back by press.

In the interim, PCU Connect Center Supervisor Rashad Gattison will step in until a determination on next steps is made, Riley said.

“Port City United will continue to be a resource for citizens and communities within New Hanover County to utilize through a variety of means and platforms,” Gattison said. “Our mission is to keep building relationships across the county and helping individuals and families connect with the resources they need to empower themselves to a better future. While it is not the circumstances of how I envisioned receiving a position like this, I am personally excited to continue working alongside an amazing group of individuals who are committed to this cause and helping others who need it most.”

A Wilmington native, Gattison has worked with PCU since it was founded last year. Prior to joining the PCU team, Gattison worked for Communities in School and Brigade Boys and Girls Club where his passion for mentoring children began.

“[P]ort City United encompasses all my previous jobs and puts it all under one entity,” Gattison said in a county public service profile Jan. 18. “I am allowed to help the community and go into poverty-stricken communities and offer the sustainability with some of the resources we broker through the call center and outreach division of PCU. I can also feed my passion for helping school age kids with the CRC division of PCU.”

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