No charges brought in ‘Chickengate’ meeting

Published 3:20 am Friday, February 1, 2008

By By DAN PARSONS;Staff Writer
No charges will be brought against any Beaufort County commissioners for involvement in an alleged back-door meeting at a Washington restaurant in May 2006.
The announcement was made by District Attorney Seth Edwards on Thursday, following an investigation by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and review of the case by James Coman, the state’s senior deputy attorney general in charge of special prosecutions.
The SBI began its probe into the meeting after it received an anonymous letter describing alleged misconduct between Beaufort County commissioners and members of the Beaufort County Board of Education.
Based on that letter and public documents and newspaper articles attached to it, the SBI began probing the meeting among Commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy, Commissioner Robert Cayton, then Board of Education Chairman Bryant Hardison and school-board member Mac Hodges. The meeting was held at the King Chicken restaurant on Carolina Avenue. Commissioner Hood Richardson has become fond of referring to the meeting in question as “Chickengate.”
Talley was not authorized to comment on how the investigators arrived at the conclusion to not bring charges.
McRoy agreed with the attorney general’s decision, saying he “knew from day one that we hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Hardison disagreed during an interview Thursday, but would not comment on the attorney general’s decision.
The anonymous letter was forwarded to District Attorney Seth Edwards from the state attorney general’s office. Edwards then referred the case to the Special Prosecutions Unit of the attorney general’s office because of a possible conflict-of-interest issue. His wife had represented the school board in a funding dispute with the county.
In July 2006, the school board took the county to court on the basis that their appropriated funds were not adequate to run county schools for the year. Edwards’ wife represented the school board in the case.
A jury subsequently awarded the school board $765,783, upping its local appropriation for the fiscal year from $9.4 million to $10.2 million. The county appealed the case, which is set to be heard in a Raleigh Appellate Court in August.
At the commissioners’ regular October meeting, Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill estimated that the county has spent $90,000 on litigation stemming from the lawsuit. He estimated the school board had spent $160,000 on attorney fees.