COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Documents subpoenaed from Duke Energy in the course of a federal lawsuit are shedding new light on concerns that acting Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene may not have lived in the county prior to his election as required by state law.
The documents say Greene’s electric account at his purported residence is a “commercial” account, and the description of the structure being serviced is a “cow barn.”
When WECT called Duke Energy in December, shortly after a formal protest was filed with the Board of Elections challenging Greene’s residency, the representative who answered the phone told us there was no electric account at the address on Page Mill Road in Cerro Gordo that Greene had listed as his place of residence with the county Board of Elections.
To ensure there was not some technical issue with the listing, we asked them to search for any account in the county under Jody Greene’s name. After searching again, the customer service agent said they found an account under Greene’s name at a neighboring property, but it was a commercial account with very little power use.
The subpoenaed documents also indicate there has been an address change on the account, which is now listed under the address Greene claimed as his residence on his elections paperwork. It is unclear when that change occurred or what address was listed previously in Greene’s account.
We reached out to Greene and his attorney for an explanation. Attorney Boyd Worley said that the property has been a farm for years, and part of it is still being used as farmland. He said the “cow barn” description is likely an old listing that simply has not been updated by Duke Energy. Worley did not immediately respond to our questions about the commercial account listing or the change of address.
During the course of the county residency hearing, Greene invited the Board of Elections and members of the public present at the hearing to come tour his Cerro Gordo farm, as they tried to determine whether it truly was his residence. Protestors had questioned the lack of a permanent dwelling on the property, which is zoned as farm land with the county tax office.
They noted that a recreational vehicle, registered in South Carolina, was the only sign of human habitation on the property, and questioned whether he and his wife would really live here when they have full-scale homes in nearby Cherry Grove, SC, and Lumberton, NC.
Greene established that he has been receiving mail at the property for years, and has been a registered voter in Columbus County since 2012. He also presented affidavits from dozens of people who live near his farm who swore he has been living there.
In a split decision along party lines, the Columbus County Board of Elections ultimately decided that Greene did not live at the farm. Inconsistent power usage, along with the lack of a septic system on the property and his infrequent trips to empty the RV’s black water tank convinced a majority of the board that the Cerro Gordo address was not Greene’s primary residence, and he was unqualified to run for or hold the office of sheriff.
The case now goes to the State Board of Elections for further review. Their hearing on the matter has yet to be scheduled. Columbus County Manager Mike Stevens says until the state finalizes the case, the county is operating under the status quo, with Greene on the payroll as sheriff. He was prematurely sworn in in early December when a protest to the election was still pending.
The State Attorney General has said Democratic incumbent Sheriff Lewis Hatcher should still be serving in the office until the elections protests are settled, but Columbus County officials have declined to heed that advice. They say Greene has been sworn into office, and there is no clear path on how to unswear him.
“Sheriff Greene has been nothing but forthright throughout the entirety of this process, including meeting the qualifications to hold the Office of Sheriff and throughout the course of the pending litigation,” Worley told WECT of his client. “He and his family have been subjected to a tremendous amount of stress and harassment unjustifiably in order to serve the citizens of Columbus County. During this time he and his family have tried to remain stoic in the face of opposing parties engaging in less than forthright actions…. Sheriff Greene looks forward to a hearing at the [North Carolina State Board of Elections] and remaining the Sheriff of Columbus County in the years to come.”