Barfield, Dawson ban fellow commissioner from using video equipment

Barfield, Dawson ban fellow commissioner from using video equipment

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County Commission Chair Jonathan Barfield has a “State of the County” address planned for Monday night. Fellow Commissioner Woody White announced plans earlier this week to release a video response to Barfield's address, after Barfield declined to include topics White suggested for the speech.

Friday morning, White contacted the county to reserve use of the county's video equipment for his response. He says he was told he was not allowed to use the equipment. County staff went on to explain to him that was the directive they were given by Chairman Barfield and Vice Chair Beth Dawson Thursday night.

“Evidently, Chairman Barfield disagrees. He only wants his message out to the public, and that's part of the problem too because his message is one of out of control spending for his own perk travel, for his reimbursements for attending civic events, and having the tax payers underwrite his charitable giving," Commissioner Woody White said.

White, who works as an attorney, says this is censorship and a blatant violation of his first amendment rights. Moreover, he says it's improper not to allow equipment paid for by county taxpayers to be used by county officials to address those tax payers.

White says he's reached out to the county attorney about this matter, and thinks it will be resolved quickly, but he is willing to take this to court if that becomes necessary.

“It's a preposterous notion that I would have to resort to the courts to exercise my first amendment rights as an elected official, but clearly that would be the next step. I'm sure though that cooler heads will prevail and that Beth Dawson and Jonathan Barfield will see the error in their ways in trying to censor another commissioner and they'll back off,” White said.

"This is the state of the county address, not the state of politics address. I'm not President Obama and he's not John Boehner. We're going to talk about the state of the county, the things that we've accomplished over the past year. It's a high-level view if what we've done in the past" Jonathan Barfield said when reached for comment at a luncheon Friday afternoon.

Dawson denied barring White from giving a rebuttal when asked about this Friday.

"As one commissioner, I do not have the authority to tell any of my fellow commissioners what they can and cannot do. So, I have not even talked to Commissioner White about this issue. He has been in communication with the manager's office. I'm not disallowing the use of county equipment. The consensus of the board is to support a unified message and a unified effort to relay information to our citizens," Beth Dawson said.

White says this move puts county staff in an awkward and uncomfortable position when working with commissioners.

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