WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Commissioners say harassment claims and safety concerns by staff were a big reason they voted Brian Berger off the commission yesterday. But there are still questions about whether the process of amotion was the proper way to deal with those issues.
A spokeswoman from the University of North Carolina School of Government says there is no precedent for Berger being removed from office regardless of staff complaints.
After months of build up, the Berger amotion hearing came to a head Monday afternoon when he was removed from office by a 3-2 vote.
“I think there is just a collective sigh of relief at the County Commission office with the ladies that work over there,” Commission Chair Woody White said Tuesday. “They were in a constant fear or state of siege so to speak not knowing when he might show up or what he might be capable of doing.”
Much of the county’s evidence in the amotion hearing centered around claims of harassment by Berger toward county employees.
In a typical work environment, if someone felt harassed they could file a complaint to be followed up by a human resources manager. But because Berger was elected by the voters, he is not technically a county employee. As a public servant he is not held to the same standard.
“There is nothing in the General Statutes governing cities or counties or other local governments that provide any specific authority to discipline a board member,” said Frayda Bluestein, an associate dean at the UNC School of Government.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield openly questioned the legality of the amotion hearing yesterday saying he felt a voter recall would have been a better route. However White says the board did what was best for the citizens of New Hanover County.
“The only other things that could have been done was nothing,” White said. “That would have perpetuated the status quo, and that would have continued to expose us not only to liability but to a consistent stake of concern and worry, and that wasn’t an option.”
Berger has 30 days to decide if he will appeal the amotion. In the meantime, White says the commission will move forward as a four-member board.