ONLY ON 3: As New Hanover Co. looks to make cuts, commissioners run up tab
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- New Hanover County Commissioners are wrestling with a budget filled with cuts. But they may be guilty of not cutting back on their own spending.

We requested recent travel expenses from several county commissioners who left the state on county business. The public records reveal $299 a night hotel stays, room service and golf gear.

The expense reports give details on how New Hanover County Commissioners spent tax dollars while out of town on county business. Much of the expenses are understandable, but a few raise some questions.

In February Chairman Jonathan Barfield traveled to Florida for a conference on behalf of the hospital. Part of the conference included a golf tournament. His expense report includes a $225 receipt from the pro shop for a $180 green fee, a $28 hat and a $5 golf ball. Another document shows the green fee was refunded, but still left unaccountable the remaining balance for the hat and ball. Barfield says hotel credits paid for those remaining expenses.

"The hotel we stayed in offered a $50 per day credit, and so being there five days I had $250 dollars worth of credit," he said.

Another questionable expense is a food receipt from that same trip to Florida. Barfield bought two sandwiches at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. We asked if he expensed part of that meal for his wife, who was with him.

"Well I could of ate the two, but I didn't eat the two," Barfield said. "The hospital was sponsoring this trip there, so the hospital reimbursed the county for my expenses."

But Barfield is not the only one with questionable travel expenses.

At a National Association of Counties Conference in Washington, DC, Brian Berger spent $44 on one dinner from room service. Other expenses include taxi fares. Some don't draw attention, like one in which he traveled from the hotel to the Capitol building. But there are two receipts where he traveled from the Capitol to the airport, and from the Capitol to Virginia. Keep in mind, on this trip Berger drove a county car.

His expense report also shows Berger claimed $24 for breakfast on March 6 and $36 that night for dinner. The only receipt we received from the county for March 6 for Berger was a $5 Reese's Sundae from Baskin Robbins.

Barfield, Commissioner Rick Catlin and a county staffer went to DC earlier this month to meet with the EPA about air quality. The trio spent more than $1,600 on flights alone. They also paid $299 a night for three hotel rooms for two nights.

We found neighboring hotels for $120 and even $99.

We talked with Catlin by phone today. He set up the EPA trip. We asked him why they could not save some money by driving instead of flying, and why they stayed at the $299 a night hotel. Catlin said the meeting with the head of the EPA came up on short notice, which left the county with not many traveling options that would work with everyone's tight schedule. But the records show the flights were booked about a month before the trip.

As for Berger, he has not returned our call for comment.

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Have you heard the expression, "Do as I say, not what I do". This seems to be the philosophy of the commissioners. They expect the taxpayers to do without things, but they are going to use taxpayer money to fund their activities. Sounds a little fishy to me!

The taxpayers have remedy - it is called the voting booth and it is time you get these yahoos out. It is evident from all that goes on that they do not have the interests of the citizens of New Hanover in their best interest. They are egotistical, selfish, and arrogant as well.

I really thought Berger would do something when he got in there, but evidently the others have rubbed off on him and not in a good way. He could have done alot with that group but he has defeated himself with his actions and words.

Why do COUNTY commissioners need to travel this much? Their business is here, tending to county business, as simple as that.
There is no valid necessity to the citizens of the county for their representatives to attend association conferences. Their job is simple, tend to county finances.

I have worked for the county. When I would travel, I would stay at a hotel that offered the goverment rate of around $45 per night, and I would reveive around $30 a day for meals.

...you know that traveling as a commissioners janitor has limited perks!

From the story: ""Well I could of ate the two, but I didn't eat the two,"

Come on Barfield, we all know you could have easily put away four sandwiches will little effort.

hey fatty barfield,i am sure you could of ate 3 sandwichs,but should your credit money not go back to the county,u r on our dime not yours fatso!berger looks like the little elf in the old time santa movies with the big ears,that kid was not to bright and neither is berger,catlin i am sure as smart as you are supposed to be, from what you let on, at least you could of found a cheaper room!

if these commissioners quit because of all this hounding and vilifying? One gut bought a golf hat and the other had a Baskin and Robbins ice cream... those expenses don't sound terribly scandalous to me, even for county commissioners.

It would NOT, I repeat... NOT be a PROBLEM if all five quit today!
In fact, I implore all of them to quit. I will never be held hostage by FEAR! And...I will never fear that LOSERS will leave public office.

You sound afraid that they will quit?
Are you? Just curious!

You chided us!!! We are the GOOD, DECENT AND HONEST TAXPAYING CITIZENS who took the time to comment on the state of retardedness within OUR County's Commissioners office. You chided us with ..."all this hounding and vilifying"

What? Like it's Hard?

Well, You ain't seen nothing yet! It is my RIGHT to speak up when the County is on FIRE!

Was it not Patrick Henry who said, "I have not yet begun to FIGHT"?

If you think they are in the position to be honest and take care of the tax payers you may feel let down.How much are each of the commissioners being paid for each board they are serving on and what is their yearly salaries and expense allowance each year as a commissioners.Does Chairman Jonathan Barfield think the dicount belong to him did we the tax payer not pay for the room.

Thank you for pointing out that the discount is not HIS to play golf with. Check they type of hotel that offers a $50 per day discount--you will find a major resort that costs lots of money! Just the tip of a very large iceberg no doubt.

The situation where the county pays 250 a night for Barfield stay at their hotel, and then in return Barfield gets $50 a day to spend as he wishes with a hotel credit is corrupt.

The hotel basically laundered money for Barfield to spend.

There are very specific laws concerning these matters in that a public official cannot receive gifts or kickbacks and I believe that this situation with this hotel violates these laws/

Does New Hanover County have a daily per diem policy that states how much staff will be reimbursed or are allowed to spend on meals while traveling on county business. I mean, $44 for one meal, $24 for breakfast, $36 for another dinner? Mr. Berger, that's just a little excessive. And what is the justification for the taxi expense to/from the airport and Virginia if you were driving a county vehicle??

And as for you Mr. Catlin ... who might I remind my fellow citizens, made the statement that the county should eliminate positions that are not needed, $300/night for hotel is also a bit excessive. It's also one thing to fly because you feel you're too good to drive but its another to lie about it. Sir, I don't think flights that were reserved a month in advance constitutes as a last-minute trip.

It appears to me that there needs to be more oversight in county travel, at least when the commissioners are away from home. If commissioners aren't responsible enough to keep up with receipts how can we trust they are responsible to make major decisions for our area. I'm sure if they weren't reimbursed without a receipt, they would have better record keeping skills.

It seems that Mr. Barfield at least has a reasonable explanation for his expenses. Thank your Mr. Barfield for keeping the interest of county citizens in mind when you're traveling.

As someone that personally knows both Brian Berger and the (until VERY recently still married, numerous DSS case toting) female in his life I doubt he traveled to DC alone. $44 for one person? A bit of a stretch at your average food venue. For two? At any place offering appetizers, entrées and desserts? Totally believable. He is whipped by that girl and if he was going on a trip out of town, you bet she'd be going along for the free ride. Berger only ran for this office because of the benefits he could reap and so he could get at least a little bit of money coming in as his UNEMPLOYMENT CHECKS were expiring. Yes, I said it, believe it or not it's true. Berger is abusing the system, taxpayers, his position and spitting in the faces of the people who voted for him and believed his rambling, Rain Man- like takes 27 minutes to answer 8 questions, BS and lies. He knows the news and people are onto him and that's why he refuses to talk to the media. If you haven't done anything wrong you should have nothing to hide.

Chairman Jonathan Barfield $299 a night then a $50 reimbersement,why did you give him a pass on that seems you are picking out others,he stated he us the refund to buy himself stuff from the gift shop that is the tax payers money anyway you look at it.

Just for the record, Jonathan Barfield is a taxpayer also, he probably pays more taxes than you!!!

He knows how pi$$ed we are for staying at a hotel that is clearly over the necessary amount when NOT on Vacation, or when on VACATION!
Who, Just Who does he THINK he is??? A BIG SHOT????????

Let's make sure that he understands that HE IS NOT!!!

AS A TAXPAYER, he also knows that legitimate taxpayers are rightfully 'calling him out' for accepting GIFTS from the hotel while on County business. BARFIELD, listen UP!! I want my piece of that golfball and HAT^

He would know that the airfare was too costly and the excuse he gave regarding it being a last minute booking was not valid.

They are trying to wear us down, make us tired of even responding, as obviously, we are not getting messages across to them.

We will unite, request time on the agenda during the public question time during the monthly commissioners meeting,and JUST FOR THE RECORD, make it PUBLIC, our discord.
Ready?

Good POINT, my friend!!! That should be a matter of public record.

Scott, please investigate the bottom line that all of these commissioners pay in taxes, which entitle them to freebies, handouts and GIFTS from expensive hotels. Please send your best investigative reporter to ask what logic prevails that correlate being a tax paying County Commissioner to accepting GIFTS!!!!!

We know that we can count on WWAY.

And...most of us saw past the golf ball and ice creme cone...until the high cost of a luxury room, the excess cost dinners, lunches and breakfasts, weird cab rides to and fro...that should be explained.

Thanks 9743, I would have NEVER thought of THAT justification of "DESERVING, entitlements" based on equality to other tax payers who do not hold mockery Public Office!