LELAND, NC (WWAY) — While he has no interest finding out if allegations of misconduct and corruption within his police department are true, Leland Mayor Walter Futch has found time to ask the US Department of Transportation to investigate allegations of conspiracy against area political leaders.
Futch sent the letter, dated July 29, to the Inspector General at the US Department of Transportation. It’s lengthy and filled with complaints and accusations of corruption against New Hanover County Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Jason Thompson, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Brunswick County Commissioner Bill Sue. All sit or used to belong to the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group discussing whether to build the Cape Fear Skyway Bridge.
“Mayor Futch must believe that because he writes a sentence and puts it on paper that therefore it’s true,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see anything in here that resembles the truth, and I don’t think the inspector general will either.”
Futch says there are conflicts of interest because some members of the WMPO own property that would be impacted by the road projects. He contends that Sue stands to gain $2 million when his property is condemned for another construction project. When we called him, Sue just laughed and said, “No comment.”
Futch also claims Thompson’s business is adjacent to the proposed path of the Skyway Bridge.
“He’s been making that accusation for a year, year and a half,” Thompson said. “The reality is there’s 40 acres of land between where I am and Independence Blvd. where the Skyway Bridge is supposed to go, so I’m not adjacent to it. I’m separated by 40 or 50 acres.”
Futch also contends Saffo owns property located in the selected corridor. Saffo is quick to point out the project has been discussed since 1993, and as of now, a site has not even been selected.
“It’s so below the belt I can’t even believe it’s been shared with us,” Saffo said. “I have recused myself from any kind of vote on this side of the river. I will always be a supporter of the Skyway Project, because we desperately need another crossing of the Cape Fear River.”
Some other accusations include Futch being denied his First Amendment right of free speech during the meetings and members conspiring to select a preservation corridor through Leland for the proposed Skyway without consulting him. That last accusation has Mayor Saffo fired up. He says Futch is the one who held a private meeting with the developers of Brunswick Forest to discuss moving the Skyway Project Corridor, and later, at a public meeting with Futch in attendance, Saffo says he revealed his frustrations over whether to protect an easement on Wilmington’s side of the river.
“I wanted to find out, first of all, if the property owners on the other side of the river were going to be willing to support any kind of realignment through their properties, because what I could gather is Brunswick Forest was calling the shots over there in regards to the thoroughfare through their development,” Saffo said.
It’s also interesting to note that Mayor Futch took the time to fire off this letter to Washington, accusing others of wrongdoing, but has yet to come forward and address allegations of corruption within his own police department.
“I think he needs to pull his head out of the sand and quit writing letters to the Inspector General about everybody else who’s doing a good job in this community and worry about his own police force and his own board,” Thompson said. “Maybe that would be better-served time for him.”
We’ve tried for weeks to get Futch to talk with us about the police department, yet he consistently refers us to the town manager. He also didn’t call us back for this story.
We did speak with Barfied, who told us he wouldn’t dignify the accusations with a comment. As for why Mayor Futch would send this to the federal government and not the North Carolina DOT, Barfield says no one is taking Futch seriously on the state level, which is why he sent the letter to the feds.
We obtained an e-mail from Leland Town Councilwoman Pat Batleman that confirms the DOT Inspector General received Futch’s complaint and will direct an inquiry. Futch resigned from the WMPO Board last month. Batleman took his place.