Barber's fate on board unclear

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County officials said Monday that no decision has been made about Commissioner Jon Barber’s future on the board after he was charged with drunken driving Sunday.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said he will urge Barber, who said last year that he is an alcoholic, to seek professional help but doesn’t plan to ask him to step down.
“He needs help,” Coltrain said, “and I’m going to insist, from my perspective, that he get that help.”
He said if Barber does get the assistance he needs to manage his problem, Coltrain “would see no reason why” Barber could not continue to serve on the board.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell said Monday that he has spoken with Barber, but he does not know what Barber or the other commissioners plan to do.
As chairman of the board, Mitchell can call a special meeting with 48 hours’ notice, but he said he has no plans to do so this week. The board will hold its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
Commissioners Carl Ford and Jim Sides both said they would not comment.
County Manager Gary Page said he couldn’t say whether Barber would resign or if commissioners would ask him to do so.
“I did speak with Jon briefly today, but I don’t know what his plans are,” Page said.
County Attorney Jay Dees said a commissioner can be forced to resign only if convicted of a felony. Driving while impaired becomes a felony charge after someone is convicted of three prior offenses.
If Barber does not step down, the board has three options.
“The commissioners can do nothing, they can request his resignation or they could adopt a resolution of censure (formal rebuke),” Dees said.
In the case of a resignation, it would be up to the rest of the board to “appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy,” according to state statute. That person must live in Rowan County and be of the same party as the departing member. Barber, along with the rest of the commissioners except Coltrain, is a Republican.
The statute also says the party’s executive committee must be consulted before filling a vacancy, but the board doesn’t have to follow its recommendation.
Greg Edds, chair of the Rowan County Republican Party, said he doesn’t yet have a comment about Barber’s arrest or who the party might recommend to fill his seat if he resigns.
Barber was charged Sunday evening with driving while impaired and failing to maintain lane control after authorities said he was involved in a single-vehicle collision. The N.C. State Highway Patrol found his red Ford Focus in a ditch along Graham Road at N.C. 150.
According to a report by Trooper M.T. Eason, Barber was “unsteady on his feet, had a slight odor of alcohol, his speech was slurred, had difficulty understanding instruction and performed poorly on the standard field sobriety test.”
Since he refused a breath test at the scene, Barber’s blood was drawn for testing and his driver’s license was automatically revoked for 30 days.
He was issued a written promise to appear in court, and his first appearance is set for Wednesday. Barber spent at least a couple hours in the Rowan County Detention Center while waiting for someone to pick him up, but he was no longer listed as an inmate early Monday.
His vehicle was taken to a salvage yard on U.S. 601, but it was gone by 6 p.m. Monday.
Friends posted notes offering support and prayer on Barber’s Facebook profile, but the page was inaccessible Monday afternoon.
Barber did not return phone calls from the Post by press time.
In June 2008, Barber pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and was given a 60-day jail sentence, which was suspended for two years of unsupervised probation. He had to pay court costs plus a $100 fine and do 24 hours of community service.
He also was ordered to comply with the recommendations of an alcohol assessment. He surrendered his driver’s license but was eligible for limited driving privileges.
In addition, the SBI is investigating Barber as a suspect in April 10 theft of a $2.99 bottle of wine from the Rushco store at 601 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.
In May 2010, Barber was suspected of showing up drunk in his sixth-grade classroom at Southeast Middle School. The next day he resigned from his teaching job.
Barber told the Post at that time he was resigning “to pursue other opportunities,” and he has since begun farming full-time in western Rowan.
In a May 25 letter to the editor printed in the Post, Barber called himself an alcoholic and wrote that he realized he needed professional help. He said he would complete a substance abuse assessment and follow the recommendations made.
Barber later said he was participating in a recovery program.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.