Another deputy seeking back pay from Columbus Co., says acting sheriff didn’t have authority to fire him

Another deputy seeking back pay from Columbus Co.

COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A second employee terminated by acting Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene has obtained legal representation, and is seeking back pay from the county.

According to a personnel action form on file with the county, Sgt. Melvin Campbell was terminated on Jan. 28. On March 29, Whiteville attorney William Gore wrote a letter to Columbus County Manager Mike Stephens and Columbus County Attorney Amanda Prince on Campbell’s behalf that reads in part:

“It is Mr. Campbell’s position that, due to the N.C. State Board of Elections position that Mr. Green’s [sic] election was never certified, Mr. Green was without legal or actual authority to either demote or terminate Mr. Campbell.

“On his behalf, I am requesting that he continue to receive salary, benefits and longevity unless or until the legitimacy of Mr. Green as Sheriff is established by the Court of competent jurisdiction or by a decision of the N.C. State Board of Elections.

“To that end, we respectfully request that Mr. Campbell’s pay be either sent to him or placed in escrow in the Office of the Clerk of Superior Court, or within the County Clerk’s office pending a final determination as to whether and when, Mr. Green became/becomes Sheriff.”

Gore’s letter is the second one questioning Greene’s legitimacy as sheriff and his ability to hire and, more specifically, fire individuals. Sources close to the matter say Gore is also representing Bobby Worley, who served as Sheriff Lewis Hatcher’s second-in-command and was fired by Greene in February. Worley, who served the department for about 25 years before his abrupt termination, is seeking similar relief from the county.

Gore’s letters to the county challenging Greene’s authority were written last month. Now, there is additional reason to question whether Greene had the right to make personnel changes. On Thursday, the Columbus County Board of Elections voted that Greene was not a resident of Columbus County in the year leading up to the November 2018 general election, as required by law.

Greene’s alleged residence in Cerro Gordo came under scrutiny shortly after the election. He and his wife own an RV parked on Greene’s farm in Cerro Gordo, but the RV is registered in South Carolina where Greene owns a home. The county has no records of Greene ever taking out any permits on his property in Cerro Gordo to build a home, drill a well or install septic lines. It is registered as farm land with no residence at the county tax office.

The State Board of Elections has taken jurisdiction over the elections protests, challenging Greene’s eligibility to serve as sheriff. Its hearing on the matter has not been scheduled. The board is waiting on the Columbus County Board of Elections’ order and a transcription from last week’s hearing. Though initially due by the close of business on Friday, the state extended the deadline until April 10.

In addition to concerns about residency and other issues at the polls, the State Board of Elections is conducting its own investigation into absentee ballot irregularities in the Columbus County election.

“State Board of Elections investigators are interviewing some Columbus County voters who requested absentee ballots in the 2018 general election but did not return them,” board spokesman Patrick Gannon told WECT. “It is possible, but not certain, that information about that investigation will be presented during the state board’s consideration of the Columbus County matter.”

According to absentee ballot records provided to WECT by the Columbus County Board of Elections, 181 of the 557 requested absentee ballots requested in the county were not returned. That is an unusually high percentage of unreturned ballots, even higher than the missing percentage in Bladen County where the state board determined there was enough evidence of fraud to call for a new election.

McCrae Dowless, who has been indicted for felony obstruction and ballot tampering connected to the Bladen County election, was also hired to work on Greene’s sheriff’s campaign in Columbus County. In Bladen County, Dowless was accused of throwing away ballots that did not favor the candidate he was working for, Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris.

The majority of the missing ballots in Columbus County were mailed to African-American Democrats. Hatcher, the incumbent Democratic candidate for sheriff, is African-American. Greene is white.

Greene received 37 more votes than Hatcher in the election, but his election was never certified because of pending protests to the election.

The State Board of Elections and the State Attorney General’s Office have said that under these circumstances, Greene should never have been sworn in and Hatcher should still be serving as sheriff.

We’ve reached out to Stephens and Prince to see if now that the county Board of Elections has said Greene was not qualified to run for sheriff due to lack of residency, he would be removed and Hatcher would be allowed to return to office.

We also asked them if they would be returning Campbell and Worley to the payroll. We are waiting for a response.

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