WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — It’s finally pay back time for New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger.
Berger paid a portion of the more than $400 he owes the county in travel expenses, but the story does not stop there.
After several discussions and e-mails between county staff and Berger, the commissioner has paid less than half of his travel debt. To finally move on, the county manager wants to waive the remaining debt, but commissioners say not so fast.
After Monday’s New Hanover County Commission meeting, Berger handed over $160 to County Manager Chris Coudriet. According to an e-mail from Coudriet, Berger refused to pay the remaining $287 saying he is not obligated to, based on his review of an August invoice.
“My concern is that he doesn’t have the resources to pay that balance,” County Commission Chair Jonathan Barfield said.
In his e-mail, Coudriet told commissioners he plans to ask the county finance staff to write off Berger’s remaining debt in an effort to move forward. But commissioners are not too happy with this.
“We voted on this unanimously as a board, and if we’re going to waive any remaining costs, we need to vote on that,” Commissioner Rick Catlin said.
Earlier this year, the board unanimously approved a travel policy, requiring commissioners to pay off any debt before being allowed to travel again.
“He needs to really pay back the money that he owes to the county in its entirety for the policy to be fulfilled,” Barfield said.
Though commissioners we spoke with want to move on, they say any changes must be decided by the board and not the county manager.
“I do understand Chris’s desire to move forward,” Catlin said. “I know that it has caused staff a lot of stress, but we do need to vote on it.”
Wednesday night, Commissioner Berger said the county is out-right lying about the debt amount and says he has sacrificed more than any elected official in Southeastern North Carolina.
“I said, half joking when I was running that I would eat out of garbage cans and live on the streets with my dog if I had to in order to maintain my integrity and fulfill the responsibilities of the office,” Berger says. “I didn’t realize how close I would come to that, but it still holds true that I think public service should involve sacrifice.”