Wilmington, NC (NEWS RELEASE) — New Hanover County Commissioner candidate Brian Berger today announced a series of initiatives to reduce potential conflicts of interest and corruption in New Hanover County, and its municipalities. In addition to addressing frequent and often controversial lapses in ethical conduct by elected and appointed officials, and currently “ineffective” legal requirements in the area of personal conflicts and conduct by public officials, Berger has suggested that strengthening ethical conduct guidelines for public officials will have an affect in addressing questionable spending practices by local governments, and improve accountability and transparency in New Hanover County. In the midst of several significant tax increases in Wilmington and New Hanover County, forced annexations, and questionable activities by organizations spending taxpayer funds, Berger is proposing “major reforms.”
Announcing his reform agenda today, aimed at reducing wasteful spending and the potential for corruption, including self-dealing and cronyism, Berger noted that the laws in North Carolina are often unclear, rarely enforced and ineffective in matters of local government transparency and accountability. A series of initiatives designed to reduce the potential for abuse and corruption in New Hanover County will be unveiled by Berger during the campaign leading up to the Nov. 2 General Election. Berger has been active and outspoken in advocating against public corruption in local government as a private taxpayer since as early as 2005.
“Impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in local governments throughout Southeastern North Carolina, including non-essential spending on projects and programs, commonly results from conflicts of interest and an attitude of indifference to ethical standards,” Berger said. “Therefore, those of us seeking to clean up government need to begin in our own backyard by requiring improved ethical conduct by our elected and appointed officials, and combat the conflicts of interest of our public officials and candidates for office.”
“The system now is broken, and it needs to be fixed,” Berger said. “The appointment process for public boards indicates just how little concern elected officials have in the area of ethical conduct and transparency. The conflicts of interest, cronyism, and secrecy are unacceptable and the first step toward needed reform is for voters to elect only candidates for office who support strong ethical conduct guidelines, are free of personal conflicts, and committed to increasing transparency and saving taxpayers from the costs associated with public corruption.”
Berger has advocated in recent years for tougher ethical policies for County Commissioners and other local officials and for greater accountability in local government and on appointed public boards. Those efforts have since taken on increased importance with voters as scandals perpetrated by the ABC Board, and questions surrounding lavish salaries and lax policies of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, and at taxpayer funded private organizations like Wilmington Industrial Development, also known as the “The Committee of 100” and Wilmington Downtown, Inc. have garnered some attention recently from some media outlets.
Recent reports have noted salaries in excess of $300,000 for staff at organizations receiving taxpayer dollars from Wilmington and New Hanover County, a double-whammy for those in the incorporated area of Wilmington paying both city and county taxes, lavish meals and expenses paid for by taxpayers for elected officials and staff, and vigorous advocacy by organizations benefiting from that spending in supporting higher taxes and more spending at a time when many citizens are struggling financially. Legal questions regarding the County’s role in advocating and certifying the sales tax increase stemming from the May 4th referendum have been challenged by a citizen and business owner, Justin LaNasa, and remain unresolved although the County Board of Commissioners is proceeding regardless of the circumstances or outcome of the legal dispute.
“It is unconscionable that families, retirees on fixed incomes, and citizens struggling to make ends meet are subjected to the costs of massive tax increases so that officials in New Hanover County can bestow favors using taxpayers’ money,” Berger said, “and continue the status quo of big government wasteful spending and cronyism that defies reasonable ethical standards.”
Today, Berger is calling on all candidates for local office, regardless of political party affiliation, including candidates for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, in the upcoming general election, to join in the effort to foster greater accountability and transparency in New Hanover County government and reform the status quo, labeled as “a culture of corruption” by many observers throughout the state.
Berger will ask other candidates for public office to sign-on to this effort and help develop a government accountability reform program, including full disclosure of any and all personal and financial connections, and involvement, in policy activities, as a candidate, and as a sitting official upon election.
“Refrain from platitudes and commit to actions,” Berger said in a challenge to candidates and sitting officials, “participate in discussing the practicality of proposed reforms as well as offering other specific ideas to improve the peoples’ government through greater transparency, accountability and ethical conduct by every party to a government activity, policy or transaction. Or step aside.”
INFORMATION FROM A NEWS RELEASE SENT TO THE WWAY NEWSCHANNEL 3 NEWSROOM...