• Andrews resident Chris Jones and Town Administrator Ed Burchins listen to public opinions during Tuesday night’s town meeting surrounding a recent altercation between the two men. Burchins resigned after the meeting.  Ben Katz/bkatz@cherokeescout..com
    Andrews resident Chris Jones and Town Administrator Ed Burchins listen to public opinions during Tuesday night’s town meeting surrounding a recent altercation between the two men. Burchins resigned after the meeting. Ben Katz/bkatz@cherokeescout..com

Andrews town administrator resigns after brawl, racial slur

    Andrews – After two hours of discussion behind closed doors Tuesday night, Mayor Nancy Curtis announced that Town Administrator Ed Burchins had resigned, less than two weeks after a public altercation with a local resident that included shouting racial slurs.

    “The board (of aldermen) and myself have accepted the resignation of our town administrator,” Curtis said. “We wish him the best.”

    Burchins served in the position for a little more than two years. He was hired on March 4, 2015, after a three-month search following the departure of previous town administrator Blake Proctor, who also found himself in controversy when he allegedly changed meeting minutes to raise his own salary.

    According to witnesses, around 8 p.m. March 2, a brawl broke out between Burchins and Chris Jones of Andrews at a local restaurant. Erica Locust, a waitress who witnessed the incident, said it started when Burchins began bothering a woman. Jones told him to stop disturbing the woman, and Burchins responded by backing off.

    Soon afterward, Locust said Burchins continued harassing the woman, only to be confronted by Jones again. Both Jones and the woman told Burchins, who witnesses say appeared to be heavily intoxicated, to leave her alone.

    Brian Gibson, who was only a couple of feet away, said Burchins shoved Jones during the second confrontation. After the first shove, Burchins then pushed Jones again.

    “He was harassing a woman who is a friend of mine, and I asked him to stop a second time,” Jones said. “Then he started pushing me, and I lit him up.”

    Locust said she yelled for the restaurant’s owner, Mitch Briggs, when the fight broke out. Briggs and various customers quickly separated the two.

    “Everybody was holding them back,” Locust said.

    Briggs said during the altercation, Burchins twice yelled a racial slur at Jones. Jones, who is African-American, confirmed that Burchins called him the “N” word.

    “It is disgraceful for someone who represents the town to behave like that,” Jones said.

    Briggs said he helped take Burchins outside, away from Jones, then called the Andrews Police Department. Upon arrival, Police Chief Richard Taylor said the officers were informed by Briggs that Burchins and Jones had been involved in an altercation.

    Because of the nature of the incident and that it took place away from officers, Taylor said standard practice was to not make an immediate arrest. No criminal charges have been filed by either party.

    Before Burchins presented administrative reports during the town’s work session on March 7, he talked about the “unfortunate altercation.” Burchins said he ended up in a scuffle with Jones, and in the heat of the moment used a horrible word.

    “I’ve never used that kind of word, ever,” Burchins said. “I’m not a racist. I was angry and apologized to Chris. I think you know me and have talked to me before, and you know I’m not that kind of person.”

    Burchins said what he did was out of line and character, and he wanted to clear up rumors. 

    “I want to be honest and straightforward,” he said. “I want to apologize to you (Jones) and the community. I’m very sorry for what happened.”

    Before the aldermen and mayor began their closed meeting Tuesday, 11 people shared their feelings on the incident.

    Local business owner Tom Rodeck said if Burchins cared about the town, he would resign. He said if Burchins were to keep his job as town administrator, Andrews would suffer economically. When investors hear about the incident, they wouldn’t come to the town.

    “He’s been given several chances already, and I think Jerry (Pullium) knows that,” Rodeck said. “I’m speaking for all the people who were afraid to come up here and say this.”

    Jane Blue, head librarian at Andrews Public Library, said while Burchins made a terrible mistake, he has exhibited hard work and dedication toward the town.

    She said without Burchins, many current and future improvements wouldn’t have been initiated. She added that Burchins has helped drive the town’s beautification efforts, and it would be a grave disservice to let him go.

    “I have been called terrible names that have hurt me to my core, and I will never forget,” Blue said. “However, those experiences have both shaken me and changed me into a better adult and a kinder person. I believe that we all have experiences in our lives that humble us, make us grow and require us to take actions to correct our mistakes.”

    Andrews Planning Board member Jack Faulkner said the aldermen should consider giving Burchins a second chance. He said Burchins has lived in a difficult environment for the last two years after going through a divorce, being separated from his kids and becoming involved with the wrong people.

    “It takes a big guy to admit that,” Faulkner said. “All those are a recipe for alcoholism. That happened. He’s admitted it and he’s looking for help.”

    He said Burchins already has met with a doctor and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

    Jones, who was the target of racial slurs during the unfortunate altercation, said he would never forgive Burchins for what was said.

    “That gives the right for anybody out there or right here to say the same thing to me, and that ain't going to go well,” Jones said. “Ya’ll (aldermen and mayor) have lost a decent person in me to believe in y'all again. And that will never happen.”

    Leslie McKinney, who has lived in Andrews his entire life, said Burchins can apologize all he wants, but what he did hurt local African-Americans.

    “My people deserve better than this is Andrews,” McKinney said. “When you come into Andrews there’s a sign that says, ‘Small town with a big heart.’ Show me how big your heart is.”

    Burchins was suspended during a nearly 90-minute closed meeting on May 7, although the public wasn’t informed of the decision until the next morning, when Curtis confirmed the board came to a “consensus” that Burchins should be suspended with pay until further notice.

    Ann Woodford of Andrews spoke during the public comment portion of that meeting after hearing rumors about the altercation.

    “I don’t like the idea that someone in leadership would ever use the ’N’ word on anybody in my community,” said Woodford, author of the definitive history book on African-Americans in western North Carolina. “I don’t want any trouble, but I think it’s very important that we know that word – there’s more to it than just a word.

    “We don’t want that kind of thing in this community.”

    Editor Matthew Osborne contributed to this report.

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