NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Elected leaders voted 3-2 Monday afternoon in favor of removing one of their own from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
By the process of an amotion hearing, commissioners kicked Brian Berger out of public office. Amotion is not bound by state law, but the county conducted the hearing similar to one that would happen in a courtroom.
It didn't take long in the process for Christopher Anglin, representing Berger, to question the board's ability to allow evidence against his client without having the ability to cross examine it.
Berger said a few days was not enough time to prepare his case. Anglin later said he was contact about a week ago to take the case. Sheriff's deputies served Berger with the charges against him almost a month ago.
The first witness to take the stand was Clerk to the Board Sheila Schult. Anglin asked her primarily about Berger's attendance at public meetings and the county's travel policy.
She admitted that Berger was actually on-time to a few of the meetings that staff officially marked as tardy.
To that, Assistant County Attorney Sharon Huffman pointed to the totality of Berger's attendance. The roughly 4 mismarked were small compared to the overall 58 meetings with a tardy or absence.
Anglin added that Berger was late by less than 10 minutes to 25 of those meetings.
An elected leader can be removed from office for conviction of a felony.
Anglin argued that Berger's criminal record of an arrest for suspected driving while intoxicated and a restraining order for domestic violence are not enough to remove him. Both are misdemeanor charges.
Anglin added that nothing Berger has done resulting in his arrest could qualify as an infamous crime, or one that calls into question an individual's character.
Criminal or not, Commissioner Thomas Wolfe said after the public hearing finished that he would not tolerate Berger's behavior in the private sector, so it should be no different for a public servant.
Schult testified about emails from Berger that she considered threatening and a form of harassment.
Chairman Woody White said Monday that he hoped to hear Berger would provide medical proof or court records to show that he is receiving help or he is in control of whatever seems to be affecting him.
Instead, White and many others in the room learned for the first time that Berger has autism. His ex-girlfriend told our reporters more than a year ago that she believed Berger has Asperger's Syndrome.
White said he had heard rumors, but nothing official from a doctor. Commissioners Dawson and Barfield said it was also the first confirmation they'd heard as well.
It happened quickly, without much discussion.
Anglin asked Carolyn Bordeaux, a campaign volunteer and friend of Berger's, if she was aware he's autistic. She said yes.
Berger nor Anglin would elaborate on the statement after the hearing.
Removed from process
Commissioner Barfield made it known twice that he did not support amotion, saying it gives too much power to only four people.
He said he does not believe Berger should be on the board, but he would not participate in the process.
Barfield joined Berger as the two dissenting votes.
Berger has up to 30 days to appeal his removal from office to New Hanover County Superior Court.
Anglin said the decision has not been made at this point, but he expects the case would be heard by a judge.
Barfield said the board will wait 30 days to plan a replacement for Berger's seat. The seat will be up for election in 2014.
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