WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)-- New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger has been collecting unemployment benefits for months according to a employer wage audit notice sent to the New Hanover County Government Center. We attempted to catch up with Berger Thursday at an agenda-briefing meeting to get his side of the story.
Berger refused to speak with us on camera, but he did release a statement saying:
“Running for election, the downturn in the economy, and the time I have devoted to serving the citizens of this county in the job they elected me to do, have made it impossible for my business to maintain itself. As a result, as so many of my constituents have had to do, I was forced to apply for unemployment to temporarily help myself through this difficult time. I am sad about this and even somewhat embarrassed, because like so many hard working people, I have devoted more time than ever to work, fulfilling my County Commissioner responsibilities and simultaneously building my business. It’s painful to concede that I needed some temporary help, and I along with many Americans have had to change some routines to keep afloat, but it will not deter me from moving forward. In fact, this fact has given me a greater feel for the hardships that so many people are feeling right now. I will continue my efforts to make my company viable and to serve the people of our county to make sure we become prosperous again, and allow all the people who want to work to have jobs and not have to look for help.”
Commissioner Jason Thompson says he has not been able to speak with Berger yet about the situation, but he thinks his fellow commissioner has some explaining to do.
“Anyone that wants to have open and honest government then they need to be open and honest with how they answer questions,” Thompson said.
Berger has never been specific on what he does for a living or who he works for. Thompson says as a commissioner, Berger owes it to the voters to be transparent.
“When you become a public official, you have to understand that you give up some of the rights that you as a private citizen have,” Thompson said. “If you guys want to come to my office and see what my day’s like, and short of me telling you what my salary is, I can certainly tell you where I work, how I do it.”
Thompson says he does not think this will effect the commission or their decisions. At least he hopes it does not.
“I don’t think it will effect how we do our business,” Thompson said. “I think it will effect how he (Berger) has to interact with his constituents. But as far as the business of the board... you hear the information, you make a vote. Your personal life shouldn’t be a factor. It should be what is the best interest of your citizens.”
Although Berger did not agree to be on camera at the meeting, he did say he would come to the WWAY studio within the next week to talk about this situation as well as other issues he has with the media.