Mayor, alderman disagree on vote-buying claims

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2016

BELHAVEN — Emotions ran high at Monday night’s Belhaven Board of Aldermen meeting.

It was a full house at the Belhaven Civic Center, with the majority of guests coming out to support Alderman Ricky Credle in light of the recent allegations against him.

In an Aug. 29 utility bill, Mayor Adam O’Neal included a letter alleging Credle’s involvement in the “utility bill fiasco” by allowing people to pay a lesser amount on their bills as a favor.

At Monday’s meeting, Credle again denied the accusations, saying he never did favors for anyone while serving as a clerk August 2012 through May 2014.

“How am I the reason for this being done?” he said, referencing the almost $430,000 of delinquent utility bills uncovered by the Office of the State Auditor. “I did no wrong while I was at the town.”

Credle said the utility bill problems began before he took the position as clerk and continued after he left the position.

“I would never do nothing to hurt the town,” he said. “Trust me, I think about it, I pray about it, and I think about the whole town.”

The State Auditor’s report, released in February, did not list Credle’s name in its findings.

“Typically, we would name anyone who we found to be responsible. We wouldn’t purposely leave someone out of the report,” Bill Holmes, director of external affairs, said.

O’Neal stood by his allegations, however, and said he thinks Credle could have done favors in his position to win support for the 2015 election, which placed him on the board as an alderman. He said auditor’s decision to not name Credle in the report does not equate to innocence, as none of the front-desk clerks were named.

The State Bureau of Investigation is also looking into vote-buying claims against O’Neal, after the Office of the State Auditor initiated an investigation, according to SBI Public Information Officer Shannon O’Toole.

SBI officials declined to comment further on details of the investigation.

On Monday, O’Neal said the State Board of Elections already launched an investigation into vote-buying allegations in January and found no wrongdoing. A representative of the State Board could not be reached for comment or to confirm this statement.

“The fact is no vote buying has happened by the Save Our Hospital supporters including me, ever!!! This is just a way for some to continue to harass and disrupt the town and the Save Our Hospital effort,” O’Neal wrote in the Aug. 29 letter.

O’Neal also addressed the town’s decision to mow vacant lots with town equipment, saying the lots need mowing to avoid becoming overgrown and an eyesore.

Some Belhaven residents disapprove of the mowing, as it uses equipment paid for by taxpayer dollars for maintenance of private properties.

“When I became mayor, they looked like jungles,” O’Neal said. “We’re going to treat everybody the same in town. … It’s a thing about respect and dignity for all the people in town.”