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County Commissioners Almost Cancel Meeting; Berger A No-Show

Managing Editor

NEW HANOVER CTY - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners almost had to cancel their October 5, meeting because of a vacancy on the board, one member recovering from surgery and one member who has a habit of being late or not showing up. It takes three of the five to hold a meeting.
Commissioners Rick Catlin and Chairman Jonathan Barfield were present, but commissioner Brian Burger had not picked up his agenda prior to the meeting and was no where to be found. Prior to the meeting Barfield called Vice Chairman Jason Thompson - who is recovering from surgery - in anticipation of Berger's absence and asked if Thompson could attend. Thompson made it to the meeting and was visibly upset about the situation.
Berger has a long track record of being late to pre-agenda meetings and regular meetings. The Board previously removed Berger from a number of boards due to his track record of attendance. The Board also recently took action after Berger failed to show up at an out-of-town function which cost the County taxpayers money.
Berger has said he's going to pay back the money but has yet to do so saying county staff keeps changing the amount owed.
At Monday's meeting Thompson explained, "I apologize for my dress today, but it's all I could wear with the inflammation, pain and things I was dealing with from the surgery. The second thing I must say is, I'm tired of people making excuses for commissioner Berger. Once again he's not here today. I had major surgery last Wednesday afternoon and came to this meeting and where is he?"
He explained, "I'm beyond tired of it. Not a phone call. Not a text. I know we've been reaching out to him since early this morning to my knowledge, has anybody heard from him why is he not here? It's beyond ridiculousness, it's beyond childishness and it's beyond embarrassing."
Thompson said, "As much as I appreciate the opportunity I have to be in public service, I will not miss having the burden of commissioner Berger around my neck come December" when Thompson's term is up.
According to WWAY TV3, Berger returned their phone call on Tuesday saying a stomach bug kept him from attending the Monday meeting. He told WWAY that he didn't go to the doctor because he didn't think he could get in.
Last year the county paid almost $400 in penalties for hotel reservations when Berger missed hotel stays in Washington and Raleigh. More recently, in May of this year Berger failed to show up for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners' Assembly Day. That cost the county about $64 for the hotel and $95 for the event registration.
Last year the board chose other appointments to numerous committees rather than reappointing Berger because of his poor attendance record.
Berger maintains his removal was not legal and said his attendance record was better than some others on the board.
In June of this year former commissioners Ted Davis said, "We left you two committees Brian... one was the Legion Sports Complex which meets every other month. You have not attended a single meeting in the year 2012."
Berger said, "I made eleven of twelve Department of Social Service Board meetings last year. My attendance was as good or better than everyone else on this board yet I was the only one that was kicked off of every single board." He added, "My attendance factor last year was better than yours."
Davis said Berger also missed the last three meetings of a Transportation Planning committee.
He said, "Consider how it looks when you don't come to the annual meeting we had with the airport authority, how you don't come to the annual meeting we had with the Town of Wrightsville Beach, how you don't even come to what is probably the most important work session we had" regarding solid waste and, "I can't make you come to things. I don't have the authority."
He said, "The people expect, when they elected you, that you would be an active commissioner and you would take part in commissioner business and we'd have a five member board."
Davis explained, "If you want to take part in county government, seriously... this board has reached out to you." He said, "Please be active, please attend our meetings in a timely fashion and please go to these meetings that we have with other agencies because it's an insult to them, and I think this board, when you don't even show up. You've never given an excuse. You've never given an apology."
Davis was recently appointed to the North Carolina House by outgoing Governor Bev Perdue. He fills the remaining three months of a seat left vacant by Rep. Danny McComas who was recently appointed by Perdue to be the next chairman of the State Ports Authority.
The Board has yet to vote for a candidate to fill Davis' vacant seat through the end of the year following the November Election.