Smith responds

Published 1:32 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

AHOSKIE – John F. Smith Sr. says he feels someone is out to get him.

Responding to Thursday’s front page Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald story (“Former school officials scrutinized”), the now retired Bertie Public Schools Superintendent said he had the legal right to connect rental property he owns in Powellsville to the septic system at the now closed C.G. White Middle School. Plus, Smith claims he had permission in 2002 from the Bertie County Board of Education to exactly that.

“The recent story concerning me being scrutinized for the mobile home hook-up into the C.G. White septic system and not having permission to do so was ludicrous,” Smith said during a Thursday afternoon interview at the News-Herald office in Ahoskie.

As reported in Thursday’s edition, an investigation by attorney Richard A. Schwartz of Schwartz and Shaw revealed that Smith did not get proper board approval to hook his personal property up to a wastewater treatment system operated by Bertie schools. Additionally, the investigation indicates that former Bertie School Board chairman Gary Cordon misrepresented the board by saying it had approved the septic system hookup when no such approval had allegedly been given.

Cordon chose not to make a response to the allegation against him.

Meanwhile, the current Bertie County Board of Education has forwarded Schwartz’s report to a multitude of public officials for possible criminal prosecution, saying to “take whatever appropriate action is within your authority and within the purview of your agency in light of these findings.”

Smith, producing as proof a 2002 news article published in the Bertie Ledger-Advance, said he did nothing illegal. Using the North Carolina Institute of Government (NCIG) as its source, the article said state law allowed Smith to connect his private property, located at 111 NC 42 adjacent to the C.G. White property. However, the article went further to say that other property owners could do the same.

NCIG school law expert Robert P. Joyce was quoted as saying in the 2002 news article that Smith has not violated any state laws or policies.

On Feb. 12, 2002, Smith’s property failed a soils test, as performed by county officials, and was deemed unsuitable for a septic system by Bertie County Environmental Health coordinator Don Highsmith. Later that month, Smith apparently asked about the possibility of connecting his rental property to the school’s wastewater treatment system. In response, Highsmith reportedly wrote on Feb. 27, 2002 that “the mobile home may use the school’s wastewater facilities providing the additional wastewater flow doesn’t hamper the performance of the school’s existing system.”

As far as the current investigation, Smith confirmed he received a certified letter from current Bertie School Board Vice-Chairman Al Parker earlier this year in regards to the septic hook-up.

“I did cooperate with the vice chairman in regards to his letter sent to me,” Smith said. “However, he said that this investigation was that of the (current) Superintendent of Bertie Schools (Dr. Chip Zullinger). I asked Mr. Parker to have him (Zullinger) to call me, but as of today, November 20, 2008, he has not corresponded with me.”

Smith also had some questions of his own.

“Should your tax dollars be spent a second time investigating me and others,” he quizzed. “Is someone gouging the taxpayers of Bertie County, like me, out of hundreds of dollars?”

He continued, “Isn’t it time for the residents of Powellsville to be given permission to use (C.G. White’s) sewage system, one that no longer serves a regular student population other than the ‘More at Four’ student participants, that is capable of handing more than 400 citizens and is paid for by the taxpayers? It seems as though the dollars being used to investigate me and others could be used to develop such a plan.”

Smith closed by saying, “It is time for the citizens of Bertie County to put a stop to the hierarchy authorizing and using funds to get people.”

By a unanimous vote of the current Bertie School Board at their Nov. 18 meeting, the hookup from C.G. White to the private residence owned by Smith was ordered to be disconnected.