New Hanover County commissioners called for the censure and removal of member Brian Berger after a 40-minute back-and-forth about his recent behavior.
Chairman Woody White led the board in requesting that staff prepare documents for their next regular meeting, scheduled April 22, to formally reprimand Berger and go about a process of removing him from the board.
Commissioner Thomas Wolfe, after challenging Berger about his accusations of wrongdoing by board members and county staff, seconded the motion made by Vice Chairwoman Beth Dawson. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who was present for most of the exchange, had left the meeting just prior to the vote, citing discomfort due to a recent illness.
Dawson’s motion called for the board to remove Berger by way of amotion, which allows for corporate entities to remove officers considered unfit to serve.
The action follows the board’s recent call for Berger to step down from the board on his own, following an incident in which Berger approached Gov. Pat McCrory when the governor was in Wilmington to present him with several documents. White has said the incident constituted a security breach.
White invited Berger to respond to comments from resident Ricky Meeks, who asked Berger directly, during the public comments portion of the meeting, to take a three-month leave of absence in light of recent events and the rest of the board’s request for additional security measures at meetings.
Berger responded with a minutes-long, rambling statement that included his contention that White had represented his exchange with McCrory as if he was out to “assassinate” the governor.
Berger said he is “not crazy” but has studied up on laws and maintains that some have been broken by past board members and current county staff. White repeatedly—and patiently—asked Berger for examples to support his accusations, but Berger declined to go into details.
“The last 15 or 20 minutes, Mr. Berger was given ample opportunity to further demonstrate why he has the opinions he has. He failed to do so,” White said. “And while we have great sympathy for what obviously is a difficult situation that he is in, I don’t think there’s a citizen that watched or listened to that exchange that believes that Mr. Berger is fit to conduct public business and comprehend the serious business that we have and deal with every day. Anyone that would conclude otherwise, I think, would be wrong.”
Later, White added, “It’s evident, commissioner, that you have a different view of the world than most folks. And therefore this board believes and has instructed its staff to take whatever steps necessary to consider a censure for the purpose of considering your removal from this county corporate entity.
“We have spent almost 40 minutes tonight discussing something that could have been devoted to discussing a whole range of other important issues facing these citizens. And we’ve done it the respectful way, but it has been short on facts and long on unsubstantiated allegations.”
Wolfe called Berger a disgrace to public office and urged him to resign on his own.
“You have made this staff really and completely uncomfortable,” Wolfe said. “And I’m talking about female staff who are at the point of tears, fearful for their lives and, I would say, paranoid about you coming in there.
“I know that you talk about these people, these wrongs that have been done to you, that you don’t want to discuss them publicly. Yet you go to Washington (D.C.) and hand out a manifesto about these wrongs, quoting these laws… I’m just a little confused about you rambling here about you don’t want to discuss it, yet you can go out in public and ostracize these people…
“I for one on this council am not going to put up with you intimidating this staff. Somebody’s got to take a stand, and if it has to be me against you, I’ll do it,” Wolfe said. “But you’re a disgrace to what we call a public office.
“I think the best thing you can do is resign,” Wolfe said. “You brought shame and dishonor in front of this council. I’m not going to put up with it anymore.”
“We’re going to have to disagree on that,” Berger said in response.
“Of course we are,” Wolfe said. “You can’t see where you’ve done anything wrong.
“You think you’re a white knight on a shining horse, but I’ve got news for you Mr. Berger: you’re not,” Wolfe said. “You’re a disgrace.”
Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jrspiers