Just days before he was scheduled to appear in court for similar charges this time last year, New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger was arrested Friday morning on charges of driving while impaired and drug possession.
Three months after being reinstated to the board, Berger was charged with his second DWI in a year, according to jail records. He was charged with DWI in December 2012.
According to Wilmington Police Department Spokeswoman Linda Rawley, police found Berger “in the middle of the road” in the 3500 block of Masonboro Loop Road at 12:47 a.m. Friday.
Berger was unconscious and “slumped over the wheel,” Rawley said.
Police found several different pills on Berger, which were determined to be schedule II controlled substances.
Berger, 37, was charged with DWI, possession of a schedule II controlled substance and impeding traffic. The DWI and impeding traffic charges are misdemeanors; the drug charge is a felony.
Berger was booked at the New Hanover County Detention Facility under a $5,000 secured bond.
Reached for comment Friday morning, Commissioners Chairman Woody White offered the following via a text message: “Regrettably it appears that Mr. Berger’s personal problems have resurfaced. While we worry about his health and well-being, the board is not distracted from the important work we do on behalf of the citizens.”
Asked whether the charges—the felony in particular—would warrant the board to pursue his removal a second time, White said that is unknown at this time.
Berger was removed from the board in May after several incidents—last December’s DWI charge among them—that called his ability to serve into question. The board removed Berger, through a process called amotion, in a hearing in which commissioners determined he posed a security risk and had threatened or harassed some county employees.
Berger appealed the removal, and a superior court judge found the board erred in its removal by allowing comments from commissioners that were not entered as evidence. While the board’s use of amotion was upheld, Berger was reinstated to the board in September.
Commissioners agreed they would not pursue Berger’s removal a second time, saying he could serve on the board so long as he adhered to a set of adopted rules that called for his attendance and timeliness at meetings, among other requirements. Berger has been tardy or absent from meetings multiple times since. (Related story)
Berger was charged with DWI on Dec. 18, 2012, after police observed him perform an unsafe movement with his vehicle around 2 a.m. in downtown Wilmington. His blood-alcohol level was determined to be .08—just over the legal limit to drive in North Carolina. Berger later said he consumed three beers and a shot of liquor that night but did not think he was too impaired to drive.
That case has been continued in court multiple times, and his next appearance on that charge was scheduled to be held this Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Thursday afternoon, Berger attended and participated in an agenda review session for the board’s regular meeting this coming Monday. During a staff presentation on changes to the county’s personnel policy, Berger asked specifically about protections afforded employees who are charged with—but have yet to be convicted of—offenses such as DWI.
The changes would allow all employees the opportunity to appeal a disciplinary action resulting from an offense. Human Resources Manager Mark Francolini told the board some department heads reporting to the county manager are not currently afforded the same appeal process.
Addressing Francolini, Berger said: “Can you talk a little about what protection might be afforded to individuals who have only been charged with a crime, particularly two you mentioned: domestic violence and DWI, which are probably the two biggest where charges are ultimately dropped and the individual turns out to be innocent.
“I would hate to see somebody lose their job because of that,” Berger said.
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