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ONLY ON 3: Commissioner Berger apparently enjoying perks of office; Updated with Berger's response

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) - When two county commissioners, from the same town, go to the same city to attend the same meeting, how many vehicles do you think they should take? And how long do you think they should keep them if they're owned by the county?

New Hanover County Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield and Commissioner Brian Berger traveled to Washington, DC, last week to go to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference. It started Saturday, March 5 with a Technology Summit followed by meetings on Sunday the 6th, Monday the 7th and Tuesday the 8th.

County records we requested show that Chairman Barfield checked out a 2008 Chrysler Town and Country van (county owned) on Saturday, March 5th and returned it on the evening of Wednesday, March 9th.

Berger checked out a 2006 Ford Freestar van to go to the same conference, returned on Wednesday, March 9th to attend the CFPUA workshop at the county courthouse, but then didn't return the van until this past Monday, March 14th - a full five days after getting back from Washington.

Here's Berger's emailed response:

Gentlemen,

In response to your inquiry, I was initially scheduled to travel to D.C. with Chairman Barfield and County Manager Bruce Shell departing Friday, March 4th for a weekend Technology Forum and various policy steering committees of the National Assoc. of Counties. Chairman Barfield rescheduled at the last minute to fill in at his church and preach that weekend and Bruce Shell also had a last minute change of plans given the situation arising with R3 and the scheduling of a Board "Closed Session" Meeting on Saturday, March 5th. Barfield traveled to D.C. Sunday or Monday for the 2011 NACo Legislative Conference.

With responsibilities related to work, family commitments, and different meeting schedules directly-related to public office, although this was only my third out of town trip as a County Commissioner, I suspect its not that uncommon for officials to make separate travel arrangements even though it would be more cost-effective to travel together...efforts are made to coordinate (I've noticed that much) but it is not always feasible.

During my most recent trip prior to Washington DC, to attend a new commissioner training and state-mandated ethics program in Raleigh, I was able to pick-up the county vehicle on the day of departure and return it immediately upon pulling into wilmington by being able to go directly to the Government Center. On March 9th, at the crack of dawn I drove the county van to a location in virginia and then took the subway back to washington DC for meetings on Capitol Hill. I did this as part of an effort to attend important meetings in washington on the 9th and make every effort to somehow make it back to wilmington in time for the CFPUA Rate Workshop the evening of the 9th. I raced back to wilmington to make the CFPUA hearing, going directly to downtown to the old courthouse (arriving about an hour late). At the end of a very long day, part of a very long week, I went directly home after the Rate Workshop. The following day I had several meetings at the Gov't Center including the County Board Agenda Review Meeting for last night's Commissioner's Meeting. I spoke with staff about the vehicle and asked for an opportunity to clean it so I could return it the way I received it, impeccably clean. Arrangement was made to return the vehicle to fleet management by ensuring the keys were available first thing monday a.m. so it could be returned to service. I asked if dropping it off Saturday would make a difference and it would not have made a difference. The car was returned first thing monday morning before staff arrival.

I did not return the car friday, and it was not driven anywhere on Friday, because after being out of town nearly a week and tied up in meetings Thurs. I had to get some work done. For most of the weekend, the car sat idle in my driveway.

Although I could be reimbursed by the County, I have paid for most of the gas on the three trips out of town I have now taken. I have paid for most of my own meals out-of-pocket too. No fancy taxpayer-funded steak and lobster dinners. I make it a point to be cost-conscious and minimize expenses where I can, paying some costs with my own money, and in this case I just needed some extra time to get the car cleaned, take care of other responsibilities at home, etc...and planned to return it over the weekend but scheduling made monday morning the best time.

I confirmed with staff Monday (yesterday) that everything was okay and checked out fine with the car and its return!

If you have any further questions regarding this or any of the three out-of-town trips I have taken as a County Commissioner I'll try my best to answer them. Some details might need to be confirmed with staff if you're seeking to do a report on my travel for the County.

Best Regards,

Brian

National Association of Counties: http://admin.naco.org/meetings/participate/LegislativeConference/Pages/2...

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.

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Leave The Hobbit Alone....

Look I know Brian personally and so what if he was using the county van for personal use...have you seen the old piece of crap BMW he normally drives?...The thing is falling apart, the tag is dead and it won't pass inspection! So what do you expect him to do? Drive around illegally? Now that wouldn't be responsible now would it? If I had my way we would just go ahead and put him in something more suitable like an MG Midget or maybe something that would boost his interview skills..like a Smart car...but regardless of what's being said about him abusing his power I am sure the Brian is just taking the heat for his girlfriend Heather who was more than likely the one who was really using the county van to drive her two children around and picking up grocery's for Brian and herself with her government food stamps. Oh yes I said food stamps! Well in closing I just wanna say please don't pick on the little guy. He is almost the size of a real person and though he may not have any mental capacity I'm sure he still has feelings. Besides, anyone as twitchy and spastic as him may end up on top of a clock tower with a rifle!!!

Umm...

I've read everything here... still looking for the story. I also heard that Brian stepped on a bug in his driveway that was of absolutely no threat to him whatsoever. I hope WWAY can send a team of reporters - preferably via chopper to check these claims out. We as voters need to know if we have unwittingly hired innocent driveway bug squashers cleverly posing as reasonable politicians. This type of meance cannot continue - I for one; on behalf of driveway bugs everywhere - demand his immediate impeachment, trial, and execution.

You can certaintly drive to

You can certaintly drive to DC in 5 1/2 hrs. I appreciate Brians response, he told much more than I would have, Esp to WWAYTV3 the "pot-stirrers"

LOL..

why is WWAY "pot-stirrers" I find it REFRESHING that a local news station is ACTUALLY doing what NEWS reporting is SUPPOSED to do...ask questions, get answers and not be afraid to do it...You don't see WECT or the Star News doing any of this...because they are so left biased they don't care!

Brian Berger -- TV

I am happy about the van and hope you keep it longer -- jump over sand dunes at Freeman Park for all I care. I want you to not fight about TV shows with your girlfriend who is married to another man (I read about it here in WWAY). That makes me mad.

Wait, Brian, something

Wait, Brian, something doesn't wash here (pun intended). You say in your note that you took the van to Virginia, parked it there, took the Metro into DC everyday, then drove the van back to Wilmington.

It takes 6 or 7 hours to get to Northern Virginia from here. So are you saying that you couldn't take the van out for less than 15 hours without getting it washed when you got back?

What did you do, throw Big Mac wrappers and Diet Coke bottles all over the back seat? Were there big orange Cheetos fingerprints all over the steering wheel?

I think most of us have rented a car in our lifetimes and were able to drive it for a few days, especially by ourselves, and return it as clean as we found it.

If you aren't able to do that spending less than 15 hours in a car, God help us all!

wishy washy

exactly Brian...when I heard this on the news last night my girl and I both burst out laughing.

Impressed

I was very impressed with Mr. Berger's response to this issue. I only hope that all commissioners would be this responsible. Thank you, Mr. Berger, for taking time out of your day to respond to this issue.

Brian is a double talker and that is how he got into office!

There are so many disturbing things that could come out about Brian but for the sake of others (the innocent that got involved with him) those things will be kept from the public. All I can say is that Brian is a double talker and that is how he got into office! He loves to talk about himself and he will wear you down. Most people move on but not Brian. I can't stand him.

A question

From the story: "For most of the weekend, the car sat idle in my driveway." For most of the weekend but not all of the weekend? Maybe a few trips to the grocery store? Maybe a day trip to the beach? Do you not have a shop vac, bucket, soap, hose and wash brush or sponge to return the vehicle "impeccably clean"?
Sounds like you got caught so soon in your career. Check with the others, they will teach you the ropes on how to rob the public blind.

way to go

You tell 'em Brian!! I hope you don't get to the point you regret running for office and winning. Keep up the good work!! John Q Public ain't as dum as some folks thank. . . we know a witch hunt when we read it and we know you are doing a good job. Git 'er done!

brain Berger

The time it took policing to see if brian berger was wasting tax payers dollars just backfired.... Now Brian has had to respond to this crap.. taking away from him focusing on the county... Give me a break people go and find criminals or something else to waste your time not county officials. Maybe one day we will get a news station to report news not gossip.

Transparency

Really Clayton! It's called transparency and he has failed this twice! Now I get it... the claims he makes up about wasting taxpayer dollars don't apply to him and his supporters. He paid for gas!!! why didn't he pay for the whole thing? Or drive his own car, Senator Thom Goolsby does it everytime he travels. Thank god Brian's not a good old boy, he's just a good new boy. Same sh*t different day.

Give him a break

Give him a break, he probably locked himself in it and didn't have a coat hanger to get out.