Brian Berger voted out of New Hanover Co. Commission

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Submitted: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 3:16am
Updated: Tue, 05/21/2013 - 10:26pm

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After two years of trials and tribulations, Brian Berger is no longer a New Hanover County Commissioner.

That was the result of a 3-2 vote that some said was overdue, but it may have raised more questions than answers moving forward.

After months of discussion New Hanover County Commissioners successfully used a common law which has not been used since 1935 to remove Berger from office, at least temporarily.

“I wasn’t elected to go along, and that’s caused problems for the last two years, and that upsets people who are accustomed to a process where decisions are made in backrooms and they come out and choreograph how they announce decisions,” Berger said.

Berger was not the only member of the day’s proceedings to question the legality of the hearing. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield made it clear he felt it was an attack on democracy.

“It’s the people of my community that voted this man into office, and it should be their ability to remove him,” Barfield said. “The old saying is that absolute power corrupts, and in my opinion putting that much power in four people’s hands is too much authority and too much power. In my personal opinion, I don’t think it was fair at all. I’m sick to my stomach right now.”

Barfield said he thought the local delegation should have passed a bill allowing a recall election in November.

Prior to the amotion hearing, the county added two pieces of evidence to its case without letting Berger’s attorneys review the material.

Berger’s attorney Chris Anglin called just two witnesses during the hearing: Clerk to the Commission Sheila Schult and citizen Carolyn Bordeaux, who is a friend and supporter of Berger. At one time, Anglin asked Bordeaux if she knew Berger had been diagnosed with autism, to which she said, “Yes.” When asked about Berger’s autism after the hearing, Anglin would not comment.

Anglin said Berger would take the stand in his own defense, but after a break in the hearing, the commissioner did not testify.

Afterward Anglin said the quasi-judicial hearing was illegal.

“The North Carolina Rules of Evidence in a lot of those exhibits would have been not allowed,” Anglin said.” The way the hearing was conducted first of all was one of our concerns. Our second main concern is the inaccuracies of the documents that they produced.”

“It’s unfortunate that county taxpayers have been subjected to this absurd waste of money,” Berger said.

Berger said a lot of what was said during the hearing was “excruciatingly dishonest.”

“I take the work up here very seriously,” Berger said. “More seriously than I take my own well-being.”

At times, the quasi-judicial hearing became confrontational, as Commission Chairman Woody White and Anglin debated legal issues, which the two clearly did not agree on.

At the start of the hearing, Barfield said he was washing his hands of the process. He raised concerns about the board taking the wrong course of action. Later he said he worried that the commission’s decision would draw out in the courts past the Nov. 2014 election, when Berger is up for reelection and cost the county’s taxpayers a lot of money. Barfield, who, as chairman, called for Berger’s resignation in 2011, said the process will come back “to bite the county in the foot and everywhere else.”

Commission Vice Chair Beth Dawson said commissioners came to the hearing without any preconceived judgments. She said her main reason for wanting Berger out was the claims of harassment and concerns for safety and security from county staff. Berger denied he’s ever threatened anyone. She also said she wished Berger had resigned and gotten the help he needed so the county would have five commissioners representing its residents.

Berger said the amotion proceedings were rigged. He went as far as to say his replacement was picked months ago, but he would not say who it is.

“I’m not perfect, but what the board is doing is wrong,” Berger said.

Commissioner Thomas Wolfe says in his experience as a business leader, he would never allow the kind of behavior Berger has displayed to happen in a private corporation. He said regardless of the eventual outcome of the process in the courts, some times you have to stand up and do what’s right.

White said he came to the meeting with an open mind. He said he had hoped he would learn during the hearing that Berger was under the care of a doctor, but he said he did not hear that.

Berger’s supporters say they are not surprised over Monday’s outcome, calling it a Kangaroo Court. During the second half of the meeting they pinned home-made signs to their shirts mocking the process.

“When they make these accusations about him threatening, that’s not true. Brian doesn’t even defend himself,” Annette Justice, a supporter said. “Now who will hire Brian? They have taken away his right to even be a citizen. We don’t do that to our citizens, especially our disabled citizens.”

Berger now has 30 days to file an appeal to New Hanover County Superior Court. In the meantime the Board of Commissioners has decided not to name a replacement.

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60 Comments on "Brian Berger voted out of New Hanover Co. Commission"

2015 years 8 months ago

The question the poll asked was “Do you think Brian Berger should have been kicked off the New Hanover Co. Commission today?”

So you’re saying that the people who voted “yes” really meant “sure he should have been kicked off the Commission today, but I feel it was terrible that he was kicked off today.”

Brian – is that you?

Peyton Garrett
2015 years 8 months ago

Remember though, the majority voted for these commissioners, all but Mr. Wolfe. As far as his attorney’s ability or lack thereof, that has yet to be determined.

There will be no successful lawsuit by Berger.

Next stop for him is the unemployment line then over to the welfare office.

With all of the transparency he speaks of, had he disclosed his autism in a prudent manner this may have been somewhat averted. Brian again was tardy in the procurement of his defense. I would like to see documentation as to the autism claim. Berger has claimed so many things that are baseless. The circus has not reached the final act.

2015 years 8 months ago

I will respectfully disagree here.
Finding an attorney to take on such a case is going to be hard because there is little to no case law history on this subject. If my timeline is correct, they gave Berger 3 weeks and he spent two weeks seeking out counsel.
As for the reasons for seeking removal
A- the money. It would appear as though Berger did, in fact, stay at that hotel. Whites case on this evaporated with that disclosure from the hotel staff.
B – Harassment of county workers. Sorry but the law applies to County employees but does not apply to elected officials. This reason has now been rendered moot.
C – Ethics. Many of the ethics provisions were being written while Berger’s antics were ongoing.
D – what we are left with is tardiness. Well that is NOT justification for an amotion hearing IMHO.

Don’t get me wrong, Berger should not be a County Commissioner, but conversely nor should the County Commission be judge, jury, and executioner either. Because there is no recall law in NC the voters are left wit the electoral time frames for removal.
Mr White chose to usurp that authority and grossly over stepped his bounds.
In doing so he demonstrated that this was a matter of political expediency rather than one steeped in “law”.
Mr White should be subjected to an amotion hearing. Then the GOP members of the board can vote to keep him on, and then all of them can be judged accordingly.
I sense a very severe voter reaction to this come 2014, and 2016.
Censure should have been the line in the sand. Mr White crossed it.


Joseph r123
2015 years 8 months ago

I think the key phrasing is reasonably believe. If you watched the hearing, the commissioners proved nothing on the threats

2015 years 8 months ago

The voters should be the only ones to remove him; however, if the other CCs reasonably believe he is a danger to staff, then what other choice do they have than to use every means available to protect those staff?