County residents think Barber should resign

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Opinions are mixed, but most county residents asked Tuesday think Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber should resign after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge.
Barber was charged Sunday with driving while impaired and failing to maintain lane control after authorities said he crashed his car into a ditch and performed poorly on a field sobriety test.
Some residents called for Barber to step down nearly one year ago, when he resigned from his teaching job amid allegations that he was drunk in a classroom full of students. The commissioner would not talk about those allegations but admitted to a struggle with alcoholism.
Barber was first elected to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in November 2006, and he was re-elected in November 2010 with the second-highest number of votes.
Salisbury resident Don Shoaf said he did not vote to re-elect Barber and thinks he should resign.
“I don’t think he needs to be serving,” Shoaf said. “Obviously, the man’s got a drinking problem, and I don’t think he can do his job right now.”
He said the board should change the rule that no member can be forced to resign unless convicted of a felony.
Annie Smith, of Granite Quarry, said Barber may need to “seek rehabilitation,” and he should send a message that his behavior is unacceptable.
“I think he’s sending the wrong message to young people, particularly as we’re moving toward prom time and we’re trying to promote, ‘Don’t drink and drive,’ ” Smith said.
She said public officials need to be role models for their community.
“I think he should resign as a good faith statement to the fact that you don’t get away with drinking and driving,” Smith said. “It’s dangerous and could take lives.”
But some people said Barber doesn’t need to step down if he can serve the county well as a commissioner.
Woodleaf resident David Peeler said elected officials should hold themselves to a high standard, but “they’re human also” and will have their problems.
“If it’s not really compromising his ability to make decisions (on the board), I don’t see the issue,” Peeler said. “If he is an alcoholic, I would suggest that he needs to get help and see about some treatment.”
Amber Hinson, manager of the Exxon gas station at the corner of U.S. 70 and U.S 601, said Barber should step down because other people would not get away with his actions.
“He’s a nice guy, and I think it’s awful,” Hinson said. “But if it was anyone else, you and I would be punished. If anything, he should have even higher standards.”
For about a year, she said, Barber has visited the convenience store regularly — sometimes twice a day — to buy fortified wine.
“We never asked questions, but he obviously had a problem,” Hinson said.
Hinson said she and her staff never smelled alcohol on Barber, and if they had, they would not have sold it to him. He had visited the store as recently as last week.
According to the report from the N.C. State Highway Patrol, Barber was northbound on Graham Road on Sunday evening when he crossed the center line and ran off the left side of the road.
Barber then reportedly turned, crossed both lanes again and ran off the right side of the road, where his red Ford Focus went into a ditch and stopped near N.C. 150.
Because 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.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

What people are saying
• Stan Berkshire, Salisbury
“I guess he needs to get treatment. If he doesn’t get treatment, then they should ask him to step down. I think he’s a good county commissioner, and he does well, but just like any disease it’s causing a lot of havoc in his personal life.”
• Ethel Vinson, Salisbury
“I think he needs to resign. I really do. … I think a person in a high position should be a lot more responsible than that, because what’s that telling us? That it’s okay to drink and drive? I lost my hip in a car accident to someone that was irresponsible.”
• Angela Ramsey, Salisbury
“Anybody who is in a position so highly respected as a commissioner should lead by example. … He should step down and also seek some help. I work for the Department of Corrections, and I see it every day. If you don’t get help, and if you don’t admit that you have a problem, it’s just a downward spiral.”
• Connie Peacock, Granite Quarry
“If he works to take care of his problem, that’s good, but after all the things that have accumulated I don’t think he should still be a county commissioner. I don’t think he’s a good role model.”
• Richard McAfoose, Granite Quarry
“If he can straighten himself out and get into a program, I don’t think (he needs to resign). … He should get help. That doesn’t mean he can’t make good decisions, and it doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. He just has a problem.”

• February 2008 — Barber was found passed out in his car near the corner of Sherrills Ford and Long Branch roads. His blood alcohol content was .18, more than twice the legal limit of .08.
• June 2008 — Barber pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, and a judge sentenced him to two years of probation. Barber later said the incident led him to discover he is diabetic.
• May 2010 — Barber resigned from his job as a teacher amid allegations he was drunk in a sixth-grade classroom at Southeast Middle School.
 Former District Attorney Bill Kenerly later said there were no criminal violations involving students and that Barber could not be “successfully prosecuted” for other crimes based on blood-alcohol test results obtained by the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Barber subsequently admitted to battling with alcoholism but refused to address the allegations and insisted he resigned “to pursue other opportunities.”
• April 10 — Salisbury Police took a report from an employee at a Jake Alexander Boulevard convenience store that someone stole a $2.99 bottle of fortified wine and drank it in the men’s bathroom.
Barber was identified as a suspect.
Because of Barber’s position as a county commissioner, the case has been turned over to the SBI for investigation, the N.C. Department of Justice confirmed last week. He has not been charged.
• Sunday —  Barber was charged with driving while impaired and failing to maintain lane control after he crashed his car into a ditch along Graham Road at N.C. 150, according to the N.C. State Highway Patrol.