WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After two years of trials and tribulations, Brian Berger is no longer a New Hanover County Commissioner.
That was the result of a 3-2 vote that some said was overdue, but it may have raised more questions than answers moving forward.
After months of discussion New Hanover County Commissioners successfully used a common law which has not been used since 1935 to remove Berger from office, at least temporarily.
“I wasn’t elected to go along, and that’s caused problems for the last two years, and that upsets people who are accustomed to a process where decisions are made in backrooms and they come out and choreograph how they announce decisions,” Berger said.
Berger was not the only member of the day’s proceedings to question the legality of the hearing. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield made it clear he felt it was an attack on democracy.
“It’s the people of my community that voted this man into office, and it should be their ability to remove him,” Barfield said. “The old saying is that absolute power corrupts, and in my opinion putting that much power in four people’s hands is too much authority and too much power. In my personal opinion, I don’t think it was fair at all. I’m sick to my stomach right now.”
Barfield also said he thought the local delegation should have passed a bill allowing a recall election in November. He said he feels as though the voters put Berger in office and they should be the ones to decide if he stays.
Prior to the amotion hearing the county added two pieces of evidence to its case without letting Berger’s attorneys review the material.
Berger’s attorney Chris Anglin called just two witnesses during the hearing: Clerk to the Commission Sheila Schult and citizen Carolyn Bordeaux, who is a friend and supporter of Berger. At one time, Anglin asked Bordeaux if she knew Berger had been diagnosed with autism, to which she said, “Yes.” When asked about Berger’s autism after the hearing, Anglin would not comment.
Anglin said Berger would take the stand in his own defense, but after a break in the hearing, the commissioner did not testify.
Afterward Anglin said the quasi-judicial hearing was illegal.
“The North Carolina Rules of Evidence in a lot of those exhibits would have been not allowed,” Anglin said. “The way the hearing was conducted first of all was one of our concerns. Our second main concern is the inaccuracies of the documents that they produced.”
“It’s unfortunate that county taxpayers have been subjected to this absurd waste of money,” Berger said.
Berger said a lot of what was said during the hearing was “excruciatingly dishonest.”
“I take the work up here very seriously,” Berger said. “More seriously than I take my own well-being.”
At times, the quasi-judicial hearing became confrontational, as Commission Chairman Woody White and Anglin debated legal issues, which the two clearly did not agree on.
At the start of the hearing, Barfield said he was washing his hands of the process. He raised concerns about the board taking the wrong course of action. Later he said he worried that the commission’s decision would draw out in the courts past the Nov. 2014 election, when Berger is up for reelection and cost the county’s taxpayers a lot of money. Barfield, who, as chairman, called for Berger’s resignation in 2011, said the process will come back “to bite the county in the foot and everywhere else.”
Commission Vice Chair Beth Dawson said commissioners came to the hearing without any preconceived judgments. She said her main reason for wanting Berger out was the claims of harassment and concerns for safety and security from county staff. Berger denied he’s ever threatened anyone. She also said she wished Berger had resigned and gotten the help he needed so the county would have five commissioners representing its residents.
Berger said the amotion proceedings were rigged. He went as far as to say his replacement was picked months ago, but he would not say who it is.
“I’m not perfect, but what the board is doing is wrong,” Berger said.
Commissioner Thomas Wolfe says in his experience as a business leader, he would never allow the kind of behavior Berger has displayed to happen in a private corporation. He said regardless of the eventual outcome of the process in the courts, some times you have to stand up and do what’s right.
White said he came to the meeting with an open mind. He said he had hoped he would learn during the hearing that Berger was under the care of a doctor, but he said he did not hear that.
Berger’s supporters say they are not surprised over Monday’s outcome, calling it a Kangaroo Court. During the second half of the meeting they pinned home-made signs to their shirts mocking the process.
“When they make these accusations about him threatening, that’s not true. Brian doesn’t even defend himself,” Annette Justice, a supporter said. “Now who will hire Brian? They have taken away his right to even be a citizen. We don’t do that to our citizens, especially our disabled citizens.”
Berger now has 30 days to file an appeal to New Hanover County Superior Court. In the meantime the Board of Commissioners has decided not to name a replacement.
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