Commissioners reject ethics code|Instead opt for promise to “support ethical behavior”

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Contributing Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday rejected a multi-page Code of Ethics requiring its members to obey all laws and uphold the integrity of their offices. Instead, it adopted a promise to “support ethical behavior.”
Voting along party lines, the commissioners turned back a four-page Code of Ethics that largely mirrored ethics codes adopted by other counties, with Commissioners Ed Booth, Robert Cayton and Jerry Langley voting in favor of the code and Commissioners Stan Deatherage, Al Klemm, Jay McRoy and Hood Richardson voting against the code.
County Manager Paul Spruill told the board the four-page Code of Ethics was intended to generally give elected officials in North Carolina local governments “guidance in areas of conflict of interest.”
Richardson took issue with the policy, saying it is “another tool that can be used by people’s enemies” to trap government officials.
“There’s nothing in this that honest people don’t already do and already practice,” he said. “I am predicting that you will see a jack-booted enforcer at your door before this is over.”
Deatherage agreed with Richardson.
“This is just another way of snaring an honest man,” he said.
Instead, the commissioners voted 4-3, also along party lines, to replace the language in the four-page proposal with a Code of Ethics that says, “The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners supports ethical behavior.” 
Booth, Cayton and Langley are Democrats. Deatherage, Klemm, McRoy and Richardson are Republicans.
State law requires local government boards to adopt a Code of Ethics by the end of the year and requires members of local governing boards to attend at least two hours of ethics training.
Spruill asked the commissioners for permission to submit amendments to the adopted code at the board’s January meeting.
“We’d be happy to look at it, but if we think any one of them is going to send us to prison, we’re not going to do it,” Richardson said. 
In other business, the board:
• Voted unanimously to approve a N.C. Department of Transportation plan for secondary road improvements for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The plan calls for DOT to spend $1.58 million for improvements to seven secondary roads in Beaufort County, including parts of Tuten Road, Sparrow Road, Home Place Road, Bowen Road, Long Ridge Road and Old 97 Road and the driveway and parking lot for the new building owned by the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department. Woody Jarvis, DOT District I engineer, described the plan as “more rehabilitation and strengthening” of existing roads and “less of a push to pave every dirt road in the county.”
• Voted unanimously to accept a financial audit of Beaufort County for the 2009-2010 fiscal year presented by auditor Gregory S. Adams of Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams and Co. of Wilmington. According to the audit report, the assets of Beaufort County exceeded its liabilities at the close of the fiscal year by $12,820,277. At the close of that fiscal year, unreserved fund balance for the county’s General Fund was $8,902,322 or 18 percent of the total general fund expenditures for the fiscal year.
• Unanimously approved a request from NRP group to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to fund water and sewer construction for Alderbrook Pointe, a 64-unit, low-income housing project for the elderly to be located off of West 15th Street in Washington.
• Unanimously endorsed an application by Schneider Electric to the Local Government Commission to seek a $2.2 million loan to fund energy savings projects for Beaufort County.
• Voted unanimously to reimburse the Beaufort County Board of Education $751,533 in expenditures for capital projects following a presentation by county schools Superintendent Don Phipps.
• Voted unanimously to appropriate $3,500 in contingency funds from the county budget to contribute toward the projected cost of $20,000 for a consortium of counties to argue for home insurance rate relief before the N.C. Supreme Court.
• Voted unanimously to approve a $3 co-payment, effective Nov. 1, 2010, for immunizations for adult Medicaid recipients as required by the state. 
• Voted 6-1 to approve $6,290.47 in travel requests from county employees with Richardson casting the sole dissenting vote. The board voted unanimously to approve an undetermined amount of travel requests for county commissioners.
• Unanimously approved 16 late-filings requests for senior citizen and disabled veterans exemptions on 2010 property tax bills.
• Voted unanimously to approve budget amendments for the Department of Social Services and the Beaufort County Health Department.
• Voted unanimously to approve a hazard mitigation plan for Beaufort County that includes some 34 projects to reduce long-term risk to people and their properties in the county and its municipalities.
• Made the following appointments: Mitchell St. Clair as the county’s representative to the Economic Development Commission and Advisory Council; Jerry Langley as the county representative to the East Carolina Behavioral Health Board; Ed Booth and Roscoe Spencer as county members to the Mid-East Commission Board; Amy Carrow to the Beaufort County Domiciliary Home Advisory Board and a slate of 13 members to the Southern Albemarle Association Executive Committee. The board also named Langley as its voting delegate to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners Legislative Goals Conference.
• Unanimously re-elected Langley as chairman of the board and voted 4-3 to re-elect Deatherage as vice chairman of the board, with Cayton, Klemm and McRoy voting for Klemm.
All commissioners attended the meeting.