ONLINE UPDATE: Berger reinstated as commissioner

by Kelly Corbett
Thursday, September 5, 2013

Former commissioner Brian Berger was reinstated to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in a 31-page ruling on Thursday, Sept. 5.

Berger is reinstated pending further proper action to remove him.

James L. Gale, special superior court judge for complex business cases, made the ruling after final documents were filed with the North Carolina Business Court during the end of August.

Gale said previously the only authority the court could take would be to send the case back to the board of commissioners for an additional hearing.

The board is waiting to make a decision about whether another amotion hearing will be held, and will likely discuss the next step during the Thursday, Sept. 12 agenda briefing, Chairman Woody White said during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 6.

“The reasonable concerns over Mr. Berger’s potential mental health problems have not gone away,” White said. “... It is important that if we move forward, that our decision be confined only to evidence presented. Alternatively, a decision to wait before moving to another hearing could be influenced by Mr. Berger, or his attorney, providing us with some assurances that any mental health issue he might have, has been addressed.”

Along with White, Attorney John Martin, vice chairwoman Beth Dawson and commissioner Thomas Wolfe were present at the press conference, but did not speak.

“The county has spent no money on this process at this point, but when it does, those documents will be public and, of course, made available,” White said.

He added later that Martin, who is representing the board of commissioners, “does not work for free.” Martin, of Ward and Smith, P.A., will be paid $295 per hour.

County staff time, which also has not been calculated, is another monetary factor in the process.

“Mr. Berger has caused unknowable amounts of time to be wasted by county staff,” White said. “He’s the reason we’re here. Prior to the amotion hearing, his harassment of county staff was immeasurable, so no I do not know how much time Mr. Berger has caused our staff to have to focus on this, but it’s too much.”

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr., who voted against the amotion to remove Berger from office along with Berger himself, said on Friday, Sept. 6, that he has not been surprised by any part of the process.

“If our board decides to go down this road again, I think it’s going to continue to stay in the courts,” Barfield said. “And my comment before was that we’re going to wind up in November 2014, and we’re still in the same place fighting about this. … I don’t see how the county wins in this process.”

Another option to remove Berger, which was brought up during the process, was to have local state representatives pass a local recall statute and have Berger’s removal up for public vote on the November 2013 ballot.

One question Barfield said he wants answered is how much staff time, attorney time and taxpayer dollars have been devoted to this one issue.

“The majority of people definitely want Commissioner Berger to resign from the board, but from what I’m hearing from people is that they respect the right process,” Barfield said. “And many are commenting that let the voters remove him and understanding that elections do have consequences.”

Berger’s attorney, Christopher Anglin of Anglin Law Firm, said he and Berger are pleased with the order.

“Brian is very happy to have his seat back,” Anglin said. “… This is what we always expected.”

About 90 miles away from New Hanover County, Town commissioners in Hope Mills, N.C., voted to proceed with an amotion hearing in July to remove Commissioner Tonzie Collins from office.

“This amotion proceeding hadn’t been used in decades against a publicly elected official and then within a month of Brian being removed, it pops up again down in Hope Mills,” Anglin said. “My question is where does it stop?”

Phone calls to Berger were not immediately returned.

This story has been updated since it was first posted on Thursday, Sept. 5, and will be updated online and in print on Thursday, Sept. 12.


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