Freeman gains reappointment

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, August 7, 2012

WINDSOR – Michael Freeman was cleared of any wrong-doing, according to Assistant Bertie County Attorney Jonathan Huddleston.

Freeman, whose reappointment to the Bertie County ABC Board was tabled last month after Commission Vice Chairman J. Wallace Perry accused him of wrong-doing in the hiring of his nephew, was placed back on the ABC board by a 4-1 vote Monday morning.

During an earlier meeting of the board, 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.

After hearing Perry’s concerns, the board tabled the appointment.

Freeman answered the charges in an interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

“None of that is true,” he said. “There is an application on file. We advertised the job. He had experience in retail sales and that is the reason he was hired.”

Freeman said the position is a part-time job.

He also said Perry’s attack on him was personal.

“You consider the source,” Freeman said. “Wallace Perry has had it in for me since the Board of Elections made a ruling with the situation with Harvey Ginn. He had it out for me since then.

“As a matter of fact, he tried to block my reappointment to the Board of Elections, but he found out he didn’t have the power to do that,” Freeman alleged.

On Monday, the appointment was back on the agenda. Commissioner Rick Harrell made a motion to reappoint Freeman with Commissioner Norman M. Cherry Sr. offering a second. Upon taking the vote, those two were joined by Commissioner Charles L. Smith and Commission Chairman L.C. Hoggard III in voting to place Freeman back on the board.

Perry, however, again raised his objection.

“Gentlemen, he is in violation of a General Statue with an action he took a couple of months ago,” Perry said.

“What would that be,” Harrell asked.

Perry said it was North Carolina General Statute GS18B-201 Section F, which deals with Conflicts of Interest. He went on to say County Attorney Lloyd Smith had sent emails to commissioners asking if he should investigate further, but had not received responses.

Harrell said he did respond and that he felt Smith’s email implied that there was no wrong-doing, but that he could investigate further if the board wanted to spend taxpayer dollars to do so. Cherry agreed with that assessment.

Huddleston said the email was meant to let the board know they had simply looked at the law and had not in any way applied the circumstances of the situation to the law because they hadn’t interviewed those who were part of the situation.

Cherry said he had reviewed the materials given to the board and that he had been assured the position was advertised and an application was taken and that other board members were in agreement.

“Based on that, I have no other knowledge that anything wrong was done,” Cherry said.

Harrell asked Perry about his comment on the statute being broken.

“Counsel says they don’t have an official opinion,” Harrell said. “You said he has violated a statute. Now what are you basing your statement on.”

“My opinion,” Perry said. “By reading the statute, it’s simple.”

Perry reiterated his belief that Freeman told the ABC Store Manager to take his nephew’s application and hire him.

The board offered to hear from ABC Board member Eddie Watford.  He said two of the members were notified of the hiring, but he was not.

Harrell then asked if Freeman would like to address the matter.

“The job was advertised,” Freeman said. “The application was taken. The manager hired. The board does not hire anybody. The board gave the manager the authority to hire and fire. The only employee that works for the board is a manager.”

Harrell asked what the person did and Freeman said he stocked shelves and sold the liquor at the store on a part-time basis.

Perry then asked Freeman directly, “Was the application taken before you told the manager to give him a job.”

“I didn’t tell the manager to give nobody nothing,” Freeman responded.

Perry said he should check with the manager because “somebody is lying.”

“You didn’t tell her to hire him and what rate to hire him at,” Perry asked again.

Freeman repeated his answer.

Perry again said he was of the belief Freeman had violated the conflict of interest section of the Administrative Code and NCGS.

Huddleston went through the North Carolina General Statute and the Administrative Code. Those codes say, according to Huddleston, the board member nor his family may benefit financially from the board member exercising his influence.

Bertie County Manager Morris Rascoe then read a letter from ABC Store Manager Judy Harrell.

The store manager said the board decided to hire someone part-time and agreed to post the vacancy on the door. She further stated that Freeman had introduced the man to her, but did not say he was any relation to him.

She said the man asked her about the job and that she gave him an application to fill out.

“At some point during a conversation later it came up that Mr. Freeman and the man were related, but Mr. Freeman never told me or suggested to me that I hire his nephew,” said Judy Harrell, according to the letter read by Rascoe.

“That just says to me the guy came in and was expected to stand on his own merit versus that he was the nephew of one of the board members,” Commissioner Harrell said. “That’s what it says to me.”

Perry asked if Freeman told the manager at what level to compensate his nephew. Freeman said he did not and the decision was made by the store manager.

“So you didn’t tell her what to start him at,” Perry asked.

“Mr. Perry, I’ve answered this three times. No,” Freeman responded.

Perry then gave up on the discussion.

“I can tell when I’m beat,” Perry said. “Go ahead.”

Perry said the action didn’t come about because of anything that happened with the Bertie County Board of Elections as Freeman indicated in a newspaper interview, but because of the word of Watford and the store manager.

Harrell said he wanted the opinion of counsel before moving forward.

“Lloyd and I did not have the statement by the manager and Mike’s statement and the discussion of the facts,” Huddleston said. “Having heard the facts, in my opinion, I don’t see that it violates the statute.”

Harrell then said his motion stood and Cherry reiterated his second. Hoggard then asked the board members to vote again and it remained a 4-1 vote.