Bertie ABC Board appointment on hold

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WINDSOR – What is typically a simple task of appointing members to a board took an unusual turn here Monday night.

During the discussion of an appointment to the ABC Board, Bertie County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman J. Wallace Perry accused the prospective appointee – Michael Freeman – of corruption.

Perry initially requested the board enter closed session to discuss the matter, but Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Huddleston said the board could not discuss the matter behind closed doors.

Board Chairman L.C. Hoggard III asked if the board members wanted to proceed with discussing the appointment and the group agreed.

Perry said he believed Freeman had acted inappropriately in hiring a family member for a position with the ABC Board.

“Michael has broken my trust and, I believe, the trust of this board,” Perry said. “He hired his nephew, or instructed the manager of the ABC Store to hire him, without filling out an application, without interviewing or anything.”

Perry said Freeman acted without the knowledge of one ABC Board member and that the other board member, Miles Davis, believed Freeman had gone through the proper procedures.

“I talked to Miles today and he said he thought that (the family member) filled out an application and interviewed and everything, but none of that was done,” Perry alleged. “I also found out Mike has done this one time before. For that reason I am solid against reappointment.

“He has broken my trust,” Perry continued. “I have been with this county 40-some years and I haven’t turned my head to corruption and I don’t plan to start now. I believe this is corruption.”

Commissioner Norman M. Cherry Sr. said he had heard of the situation and had concerns.

“Here’s where I am with this, be it a trust issue or not,” Cherry said. “I have to have documentation and proof that a law has been broken and violated. Whether he is my friend or not my friend, if a law has been broken or violated then I will act accordingly. But if I have no proof – and I’m not saying the hearsay is not correct – all of us can have our thoughts.”

Cherry further stated he had asked for documentation and proof and that none had been provided to him.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said he had not been informed about the matter and his initial reaction was that he needed to know what the hiring policies for the ABC Board were.

“Is there anything that says they can’t do that,” Harrell asked, apparently referencing the hiring procedure.

Cherry agreed.

Harrell said, “I hear what Commissioner Perry is saying. If they have a policy that says they have to follow certain protocol, you need to follow that protocol, but if they don’t have any, I’m not so sure.”

Commissioner Charles L. Smith said he thought the matter should be studied.

“This matter needs to be investigated,” Smith said.

Harrell said he could not vote on an appointment until he knew about the ABC Board Policy.

Perry asked Bertie County Manager Morris Rascoe if he knew the ABC Board policy. Rascoe said he did not. Perry then asked if they followed county policy, to which Rascoe said they were not bound by such policy.

Hoggard said he had checked into the matter.

“It is my understanding the job was advertised,” he said. “The position was posted on the ABC store and everyone went through the legal procedures.”

“Is that a fact,” Harrell asked.

“From my understanding, yes,” Hoggard said.

Harrell asked if Hoggard had proof and the chairman said there was no proof either way at the meeting.

Perry then restated his opinion the person did not fill out an application.

“I was told he filled out an application,” Hoggard said.

Cherry said if he filled out an application it should be an easy matter to have someone show it to the commissioners.

Hoggard asked if the board could move forward with the appointment since there was no proof and then further investigate, and if proof came forward they could take necessary steps.

“Mr. Chairman, I disagree with that,” Harrell said. “If Mr. Perry has raised allegations that there may be something unethical that took place during the hiring of someone in the ABC Board, then we need to investigate or at least have some information provided to us as to what policy and procedures were for that board.”

Cherry asked if Freeman was off the board and the Assistant County Manager Misty Deanes said it was possible that the appointment would remain in effect until a new appointment was made.

Harrell then asked Huddleston’s opinion.

“I think the dialogue you’re having is exactly what you need to be talking about,” he said. “I think you’re headed in the right direction.”

Harrell said he believed the board needed more information before making an appointment.

“I want to make sure that what I vote on is legal and right,” Cherry said. “If a violation has occurred, we need to deal with the violation. If one has not occurred, let’s deal with that too.”

Smith again suggested investigating the matter more thoroughly before making a decision.

The board agreed to find out more before taking action and tabled the appointment.