Will the state ruffle somefeathers, or will it eat crow?

Published 3:30 am Friday, September 28, 2007

By Staff
If an indictment is to come forth in Chickengate, it’s a dish that will be served cold.
More than a year after the State Bureau of Investigation began to probe a restaurant meeting including Beaufort County commissioners and school-board members, the case has no resolution — no indictments, no closure and no one from the Department of Justice who will say much. Because it’s a case involving public officials and the public’s trust, it’s not a case that should languish.
If charges are to come, the state should go ahead and issue them so the officials involved know the animal they’re dealing with. If there are to be no accusations of wrongdoing, the state has the obligation to go ahead and say that, too, if for no other reason than to lift the cloud that hangs over these leaders and Beaufort County itself.
Opened after an anonymous letter was sent to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, the case centers around a May 2006 meeting of commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy, former Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Bryant Hardison, Commissioner Robert Cayton and school board member F. Mac Hodges. Because that meeting took place at King Chicken restaurant, locals refer to the SBI case as a probe into Chickengate.
The SBI began questioning school officials in late summer 2006 and would question county leaders by November of that year, but the months that have followed have been marked largely by silence. In February, a spokeswoman for Cooper said the SBI’s part of the case was nearly wrapped up and that the case would be turned over to a special-prosecutions unit that would determine if charges would be filed. As of Wednesday, the case remained with that special-prosecutions unit.
It’s the same thing Talley has had to say for months.
We’re not in the business of shooting the messenger, being messengers ourselves. But we hope that, soon, someone in the Department of Justice will give Talley more information that can be made public. There are too many public-interest elements to this case to allow it to drag on and on or to let it just hang around in hopes that the public will eventually forget it exists.
It’s based in part on a letter that’s cloaked in mystery, for goodness’ sake. And as to the 2006 meeting in question, there are two wildly different accounts of what happened there.
Hardison has said McRoy called the meeting to discuss the schools’ budget, and that McRoy said the schools would not get money sought from the county unless Superintendent Jeff Moss were fired. McRoy asserts that the gathering was nothing more than “four people having breakfast together.”
Wherein lies the truth?
Voters in Beaufort County deserve to know, and they deserve to know sooner rather than later.