WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - After two days of testimony and a trip to Cerro Gordo, the Columbus County Board of Elections has determined Jody Greene is not a domiciled resident of Columbus County.
The board decided in a 3-2 vote along party lines Thursday evening that Greene was not domiciled at his reported Cerro Gordo address on Nov. 6, 2017, in the county, and made the same split decision pertaining to if Greene was domiciled on Nov. 6, 2018.
The dates are important because if the Supreme Court determines the one-year residency requirement — as written in state law but contested by Greene’s attorneys — is unconstitutional, Greene’s eligibility to serve as sheriff would hinge on the latter date.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections will take immediate jurisdiction on the matter, and will await the county board’s formal written report.
Special counsel for the board Michael Crowell said he hoped to have the draft for the board to sign by the middle of next week. In that report will be the findings of the board members, the transcription of the hearing and the evidence submitted. For that report, Crowell had each board member who said they did not believe Greene was domiciled in Columbus County explain why.
The three board members said they took issue with Greene’s recreational vehicle.
Kay Horne, who said she is familiar with RVs, said she had issues with the sewage disposal Greene reportedly practiced, the change in electricity bill amounts over time, and the fact the RV is still registered in South Carolina
Brenda Ebron and Chair Bonita Blakney said they had the same issues. Ebron added she believed if Greene truly considered the Cerro Gordo property his domicile, he would have prioritized improvements of that property over those of his beach home.
JoAnn Garrell and Bonnie Inman disagreed, saying they found evidence presented at the hearing compelling, and didn’t want to “judge” the Greenes for how they choose to live.
The board also voted unanimously it did not find evidence to support Gloria Smith’s initial election protest regarding election irregularities throughout the county.
The board’s vote came after another long day of testimony, as well as a field trip to Cerro Gordo.
Despite acknowledging it as a disruption to proceedings, the board decided to take a recess during the second day of its evidentiary hearing in the disputed sheriff race to tour the acting sheriff’s purported residence.
Attorneys for Greene made the proposal in their opening statements after Columbus County Board of Elections Executive Director Carla Strickland took the stand to correct two aspects of her testimony on Wednesday.
The proposal prompted a convoluted back-and-forth between the board and attorneys for former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher and election protestor Gloria Smith, who argued the current state of Greene’s Cerro Gordo property is irrelevant to the issue at hand, principally, whether Greene lived there a year prior to the election, as required by state law.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the board decided to visit the property, using transportation provided by Greene’s attorneys.
Board members walked around Greene’s property for the better part of an hour, often stopping to take notes while looking at two RVs located on the land.
Once the board returned from the trip to Greene’s property, Charlie Andrews took the stand.
Andrews said he is a friend of Greene’s, and lives about a mile from the Greene’s home in North Myrtle Beach.
Greene’s attorney, Boyd Worley, asked Andrews to testify to his knowledge of Greene’s presence in North Myrtle Beach.
Andrews said he only recalls seeing Greene at the property five or six times over the last few years, mostly on weekends. At other times, he said Greene would ask him to watch the house for tidal flooding.
He also said he had visited Greene at the Cerro Gordo property and had dinner there on multiple occasions.
After Andrews, Greene took the stand.
Greene said he has considered the Cerro Gordo property to be his domicile since he purchased it in 2012, but said damage to his wife’s business during Hurricane Matthew and other matters have delayed his ability to build a home there.
Worley first walked Greene through his life, asking him to say where he lived at various times, and about his utility bills, his credit card statements, his voter history, driver’s license and other items that reflect Greene’s address.
He also introduced a change of address form, arguing that amounted to Greene abandoning his former domicile, and moving to a new one.
When asked about testimony from the tax office representative, Greene said he was ignorant to the fact he needed to change the status of the land with the county. The representative testified there has never been a change from the Cerro Gordo property from agricultural to residential.
Worley also addressed a few of the issues raised during Wednesday’s testimony, including the issue of the RV’s registration and title in South Carolina.
Greene said he doesn’t have vehicles registered in South Carolina, though Horry County tax records indicate otherwise.
He said when he and his wife were purchasing the RV, she listed her address because she values her independence, and he respects that.
Worley asked about a statement from Hatcher on Wednesday that the former sheriff did not see a mailbox at Greene’s property when he visited in November 2018.
Greene said he used to have a mailbox in the shape of a bass fish, but it was stolen, evidenced he said by the fact he called 911 in 2015 to report it stolen.
Worley also asked about Greene’s utilities, specifically about his power and sewage disposal.
Greene said the RV is not connected to a septic system or sewer, but instead he travels to a campground in Tabor City once a month to dispose of the blackwater waste. He said it takes the smaller camper to a different campground also once a month, though he said the dogs live in that RV and it does not generate as much waste.
As far as electrical power, Worley submitted a “billing and payment history” for the Cerro Gordo property. Greene said there has been a power hook-up there for 20 years.
Attorneys for Gloria Smith declined to cross-examine Greene, but Oscar Blanks asked questions on behalf of Hatcher about a discrepancy in the dates listed on Greene’s candidate filing.
Worley called three of Greene’s neighbors to the stand, asking them if they see Greene and his wife on a regular basis, which they said they did. Blanks briefly cross-examined one.
In the interest of time, the board asked how many of those kind of witnesses the Greene team planned to bring, to which Worley responded there were several, but he would be willing to have them simply stand, as many submitted affidavits during the Hatcher vs. Greene suit.
When both sides had finished calling and cross-examining witnesses, all five attorneys were given the chance to make a final appeal to the board.
For Greene, Worley went through each piece of evidence submitted on behalf of his client, including the bank statements, voter records and driver’s license, explaining why he believed they supported Greene’s claim of domicile.
Ralph Frasier, for Smith and Hatcher, argued the opposite — that the documents he and the others had provided, including the tax records for the RV and the lack of permits and improvements on the land, instead showed that Greene is not domiciled in Columbus County.