For full disclosure, the writer of this blog had a conversation with Commissioner Berger within the last two months urging him to step down on his own, for his own benefit. However, it is our contention that such a decision is his alone; that is until the next election, of which the decision belongs to the voters of New Hanover County. The precedent set by the commissioners yesterday dangerously removes the electoral power of the people, and demonstrates that elected officials can be forced out of office by other elected officials holding the same office, due to arbitrary disagreements, hearsay, and personal vendetta.
The intention of this writing is to protest the amotion procedure as it was employed by the commissioners, led by Chairman Woody White; Tom Wolfe, who holds office as an appointee, and was not elected by the voters; and Beth Dawson, who freely admits that most everything they accuse him of happened before she was even in office. It is not our intention or purpose to defend or debate the merits of Berger's tenure, or whether he should remain on the board, because as previously stated, we believe he should have resigned on his own. However, the manner in which he was removed is an egregious display of elected government power run amok.
It should also be stated that Commissioner Jonathan Barfield should be commended for his position and comments regarding the hearing. Barfield stated early in the hearing that he disagreed with the process, that he would have no part of it, and that it sets a dangerous precedent. He illustrated that he was "washing his hands" of the whole affair, and held fast to his concern as he joined Berger in voting against the motion to remove Berger by amotion.
For the specifics of why exactly this hearing was nothing more than arrogance on display, and a gross misapplication of justice, consider these items:
- The very people bringing the "charges" against Berger that he is unfit to serve and should therefore be forcefully removed from office, are the very same who served as both judge and jury during the hearing. Chairman White led the witch hunt against Berger, and also decided how and what evidence would be admitted and considered, and all of the procedural rules of the hearing. This would be the equivalent of a judge suing someone in court, and then taking his seat as the sitting judge in the case.
- This was considered a quasi-judicial hearing. The Legal Dictionary defines a quasi-judicial hearing as "The action taken and discretion exercised by public administrative agencies or bodies that are obliged to investigate or ascertain facts and draw conclusions from them as the foundation for official actions." http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Quasi-Judicial Basic jurisprudence dictates that one is considered innocent until proven guilty, which puts the burden of proof on those bringing the charges. In this case however, the very body bringing the charges, is the body deciding the case, and therefore the burden is on the defendant, Commissioner Berger, to prove a negative, an insurmountable task.
- When Berger's attorney, Mr. Anglin, contested the evidence pertaining to Berger's travel records as possibly inaccurate, he was told that he could basically consider that evidence moot, because it wouldn't make a difference in the outcome either way. This commentary basically proves that the outcome was pre-determined, in contrast to that in a legal case, where all evidence must be considered, and one piece of evidence has the ability to sway a jury one way or the other.
- The county attorney, who works at the pleasure of the board, served as the prosecutor in the hearing. This completes the deck being stacked against Berger in every way possible. Berger, as a citizen of the United States, is afforded the right to a fair and impartial trial - as a quasi-judicial proceeding, one would assume that basic American jurisprudence would be in effect - not a Soviet-style witch-hunt.
- When Mr. Anglin protested the merits of the hearing as being unfair, Chairman White smugly disagreed, stating that Berger had every opportunity to present any evidence he wished, and to deny any or all of the accusations against him. White, who himself is an attorney, did not seem to comprehend the fact that no amount of evidence or denial of charges could overcome the fact that the party bringing the charges is the same party deciding the case.
- The evidentiary record was rife with hearsay. Stories of trembling, sobbing women subject to the many harsh abuses of Commissioner Berger on a daily basis saturated the case against him - however, when the opportunity arose for these victims to come forth and address their subjugator directly, oddly there were none to do so. County Clerk Sheila Schult testified that Berger's emails were demanding and far more frequent in their requests for information than that of a typical commissioner. However, when asked if she was every physically threatened or harmed in any way by Berger, she stated under oath that she had not been.
- During the county attorney's closing argument, she referred to Berger's many "violations", although Berger has not been convicted of any crime, and has not violated anything - other than the arbitrary conditions imposed by Chairman White and his two cohorts, Commissioners Dawson and Wolfe.
Many more points could be made regarding the absurdity of this proceeding. This should be taken very seriously by the voters of New Hanover County as an extremely offensive act, undermining their American right to choose their officials. Even those ready for Berger to leave, should be insulted that they will not have the ability to let their frustration be heard on election day in voting him out of office.
Berger's attorney has stated that they will appeal in an actual court of law, in which one would hope enough common sense and reason still exists to nullify the injustice done to Berger through the amotion process.
Regardless, voters will still eventually have their way in deciding the political fates of White, Wolfe, and Dawson, who hoped to pull off their little ruse riding on the wave of Berger dissent in the community - however, a backlash seems to be brewing resulting in outrage over their egregious grab of power that they do not possess.