BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — A day after fellow Brunswick County Commissioners removed him from the county’s Social Services Board, Charles Warren is speaking out. The commissioner sent the following “letter to the editor” to several media outlets this morning:
I want to start by restating my position that the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners lacks the authority to remove a member of the Brunswick County Board of Social Services according to the North Carolina General Statutes, sections 153A-76 and 108A-1, and relevant case law.
That being said, the charges raised by Board of Commissioners do not rise to the level of “good cause” that would otherwise be required to remove me from my position as a member of the Brunswick County Board of Social Services. As there is no North Carolina statute or rule which sets forth any guidelines by which a member of the Board of Social Services can be removed, we can only look to the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Handbook for County Social Services Boards, which suggests grounds for removal which constitute “good cause.” While the Board of Commissioners has not stated which of the grounds listed in that publication my alleged actions would fall under, I will demonstrate why my actions do not constitute “good cause” for my removal.
First, the Board of Commissioners has alleged that I “abused my discretion as DSS Chair by removing members and media representatives from open meetings and threatening members of the DSS board with suspension.” These allegations stem from my removal of fellow Board member Patricia Sykes and Brunswick Beacon reporter Caroline Curran from the December 13, 2011, regularly scheduled meeting of the Social Services Board for disruptive behavior and outbursts.
As you are well aware, I am the Chair of the Social Services Board, and the presiding officer of all official Social Services Board meetings. As stated in the Handbook for County Social Services Boards, “the board’s chair has the implied power and duty to preside at board meetings; to ensure board meetings are conducted fairly, efficiently, and in accordance with the board’s rules of procedure; to recognize members who wish to speak at board meetings; and to rule on motions and questions of procedure at board meetings.”
The North Carolina General Statutes, section 143-318.17 also recognizes the right of the presiding officer of an official meeting to remove a disrupting individual. It reads: “A person who willfully interrupts, disturbs, or disrupts an official meeting and who, upon being directed to leave the meeting by the presiding officer, willfully refuses to leave the meeting is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
The acts of both Patricia Sykes and Caroline Curran at December 13, 2011, official meeting of the Social Services Board were, in my opinion as the duly appointed chair, willful interruptions of the meeting, disturbed the meeting agenda, and were disruptive:
Patricia Sykes interrupted my statements and the statements of fellow member David Grimes, while we discussed a motion that Mr. Grimes had brought to the floor. Parliamentary procedure requires the resolution of that issue prior to moving on to a new item on the agenda. While David Grimes and I worked to resolve his motion, Patricia Sykes repeatedly interrupted in an attempt to bring a new item of business to the floor, contrary to procedure. With the approval of at least one other Social Services Board member, and according to my legal duty and responsibility as presiding officer of this official meeting, I ruled Patricia Sykes “out of order” three times in an attempt to: (1) bring order to the meeting; (2) conduct the meeting fairly, efficiently, and in accordance with the rules of procedure; and (3) in an attempt to resolve the pending motion on the floor and therefore allow David Grimes to fully state the circumstances surrounding his motion. Despite my rulings and good faith attempts to bring the meeting to order, Patricia Sykes continued to interrupt and further disrupt the meeting. Faced with my statutory duty to maintain the decorum of the meeting, I instructed Chief Deputy Charlie Miller to escort Patricia Sykes out of the meeting due to her refusal to adhere to my rulings and continued interruptions and disruptive behavior.
At that point, another member of the public, whom I believe to be a friend and supporter of Patricia Sykes, stood up and caused further disruption to the meeting.
Later during the meeting, pursuant to our agenda, a Motion was made to enter a closed session, for purposes permitted by the General Statutes of North Carolina, namely, to discuss personnel issues and possibly consult with an attorney. This caused Caroline Curran, a member of the media, to interrupt and object, accusing the Board of illegally entering closed session. As Chair, it was my understanding of Ms. Curran’s objection that the wrong provisions of the North Carolina General Statutes had been recited, not that the purposes (to discuss personnel issues and possibly consult with an attorney) were inappropriate for a closed session. Ms. Curran was a member of the public and did not have the floor, nor was she on the agenda. Ms. Curran’s outburst, which in my opinion as Chair were factually incorrect, interrupted the meeting, creating further disruption. Accordingly, as Chair, I ruled her out of order. Upon her refusal to cease disruptive behavior, I instructed Chief Deputy Charlie Miller to remove her in order to: (1) bring order to the meeting; (2) conduct the meeting fairly, efficiently, and in accordance with the rules of procedure; and (3) in an attempt to resolve the pending motion on the floor.
I exercised the duties and obligations imposed upon me by law as Chair of the Brunswick County Board of Social Services, under which I have the authority to remove individuals from official meetings, as deemed appropriate by me, in order to insure (sic) that the Board may properly conduct its business. My actions in removing both Patricia Sykes and Caroline Curran from this meeting were taken as part of my legal duties and obligations as Chair of the Brunswick County Board of Social Services. As the duly appointed presiding officer of that meeting, it cannot be said that I took any action which would rise to the level of “good cause” necessary to remove me from the Board of Social Services, even if there were the legal authority to do so.
Second, the Board of Commissioners has alleged that I directed “the unauthorized expenditure of funds for the hiring of a private investigator.” Given the lack of clarity about this particular allegation, I can only assume that it pertains to the circumstances surrounding the personnel action taken by the Board of Social Services against the former director of the Brunswick County Department of Social Services, a personnel action that the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners and the Brunswick County Manager fully supported. Therefore, the facts surrounding this allegation clearly show that it is false and otherwise fails to rise to the level of “good cause” for my removal:
The Board of Social Services has legal duties that require it to “consult with and advise the social services director about problems involving the county social services department,” “discipline or dismiss the county social services director in accordance with the rules and procedures established by the State Personnel Commission,” and “evaluate the social services director’s performance.” The Board of Social Services also has powers that are “reasonably implied by, or incident to, the powers expressly granted to it under state law,” and powers “essential to the accomplishment of the board’s purpose.”
Soon after my appointment to the Board of Social Services, several complaints were brought to the Board’s attention concerning alleged acts of misconduct on the part of the director of the Department of Social Services, and the Board was asked by grieving employees to undertake an investigation of these allegations. It was the Board’s belief that these allegations should be investigated, and as Chair, I spoke with District Attorney Jon David, in the presence of fellow Board member Bernest Hewett, regarding the possibility of an investigation by his office. Mr. David informed me that the District Attorney’s office did not investigate personnel matters. The Board of Social Services would not have the expertise to undertake such an investigation, and accordingly, I made contact with a private investigator and asked him to submit a bid for his services on the issue.
Mr. Orrock, the Director of the Department of Social Services at that time, informed the Social Services Board that the Department had funds available to pay for the investigative services. Accordingly, the Board voted to accept the private investigator’s bid, and Mr. Orrock signed the contract with the investigator. Based upon information developed as a result of the investigation, the Board of Social Services voted unanimously to terminate Mr. Orrock’s employment.
Therefore, I took no independent action “directing the unauthorized expenditure of funds for the hiring of a private investigator.” Rather, the Board voted to accept a bid from a private investigator to assist the Board of Social Services in undertaking an investigation, given that, based on information provided to us from the District Attorney’s office, no law enforcement agency could undertake the investigation of this personnel matter. The Board of Social Services was informed that there were funds available for the costs of this investigation, and the Director of Social Services, Mr. Orrock, executed the contract with the investigator. The Board was unaware from what source Mr. Orrock planned to pay for the investigator’s services.
The Board of Social Services, faced with the legal duty to evaluate the Director’s performance, and discipline or dismiss the director when appropriate, both factually and legally, must have a means to effectively evaluate him and determine if sufficient facts exist that warrant discipline or dismissal. The authority to initiate an investigation is thus “essential to the accomplishment of the board’s purpose,” and “reasonably implied by, or incident to, the powers expressly granted to it under state law.” Accordingly, there was nothing unauthorized about the Board of Social Services hiring an investigator to assist in an investigation of its Director. Again, the Board of County Commissioners and the County Manager’s office, on the basis of the information developed from this investigation, encouraged the Board of Social Services to take action against Mr. Orrock.
As such, there certainly exists no “good cause” for my removal on the basis of the Board of Social Services having hired an investigator to investigate the serious allegations against the Director. The Board of Social Services did not feel comfortable undertaking such an investigation. There was no “intentional expenditure of unauthorized funds,” as the Director informed the Board that the funds existed to hire the investigator, and personally signed the contract.
No cause, much less “good cause,” exists for my removal as a member of the Brunswick County Board of Social Services. I would respectfully request that a copy of this statement be included in the record of these proceedings.