Berger’s removal continues to be discussed

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lumina News file photo 

The North Carolina State Bar has determined that New Hanover County attorney Wanda Copley can proceed with the censure and amotion of county commissioner Brian Berger as directed by the majority of the commission.

The process to remove Commissioner Brian Berger from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will continue April 22.

The North Carolina State Bar confirmed, after the April 8 meeting, that it is proper for county attorney Wanda Copley to proceed as directed by the majority of the commission with the censure and process of amotion, the removal of a corporal officer from office.

Describing the common law process, the Campbell Law Review is being used as a reference.

“We’re following a similar process,” Chairman Woody White said. “We’re going to add some mechanisms to it to ensure fairness and due process and a full opportunity for Mr. Berger to offer his viewpoint of the allegations that we’re going to include.”

White said no official date has been set for the hearing, but it will probably be held within five to 10 days of the April 22 meeting, when the process is discussed with Berger.

“We’re a self-governed board, just as if it were a legislature or a congress or any other governing entity,” White said. “There’s no judicial process. We’re simply giving him due process of law as it relates to notice and an opportunity for him to be heard and so forth. There’s not a state statute that empowers or authorizes a court to intervene. … There has to be some basic level of mental competence to comprehend the data and materials and to make decisions. He’s incapable of doing that. I’m not a doctor. That’s just my opinion in dealing with him and watching him and listening to the things that he says and the way that he tries to convey his thoughts. … It is the right thing for the citizens of New Hanover to remove someone who is unfit, and I have heard universal support for that opinion anecdotally.”

Berger currently owes the county $287.16 for expenses related to travel that he requested, but failed to attend.

New Hanover County Republican Party Chairwoman Rhonda Amoroso said the GOP has not taken a position on the commission’s decision. Members are watching to see what happens.

“What we did do is we passed a resolution at our county convention a couple of weeks ago censuring Mr. Berger and asking him to step down immediately, based on his disorderly conduct and behavior,” she said.

If Berger is removed from the board, the party’s leadership committee will revisit the same short list used in December 2012 to make a recommendation for the seat vacated by former commissioner Rick Catlin.

“The county executive committee now looks a lot different than it did before our convention,” Amoroso said. “We have less people on it, so the balance is a little bit different, and the players are different. So that would probably result in a different outcome should we go through this process again.”

The executive committee was trimmed down from more than 130 to about 80 members at the March 23 county convention.

“I don’t think Mr. Berger will resign willingly,” Amoroso said. “I’m going to be following the process just like everybody else in town, and we will see what happens.”

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. left the April 8 meeting before the motion passed 3-1, but said he is currently neutral on the issue.

“My first choice would always be for him to step down,” Barfield said during a Monday, April 15 telephone interview. “In my heart of hearts, I think ultimately people elect people to serve. They should have the ability, if they want to, to recall them. I’m not sure that I want that power from a commissioner standpoint. I think that it could get way too political. … I don’t know that I want a board of county commissioners having that authority solely in their hands. I’m not sold on that one yet. And again, I just have to hear more, that’s all.”

Barfield was also a member of the former board, which asked Berger to resign in 2011.

“He held a press conference the next day, saying he wasn’t going to resign,” Barfield said. “And here we are in 2013 having the same issues.”

Phone calls to Berger for comment were not returned.

Recently instituted additional security measures at the county’s Government Center, including bag searches and metal detector checks, will continue no matter the outcome of the amotion process. The heightened security was instituted as a result of Berger’s uninvited after-hours visit to the county manager’s and county attorney’s offices and his unauthorized, personal delivery of a 10-page manifesto to Gov. Pat McCrory last month.


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