Commissioner accused of using county copier for his produce business

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 22, 2013

SALISBURY — County staffers told an investigator that Commissioner Jon Barber made more than 4,000 copies on the county’s copier, according to the investigator’s report.
County Risk Manager Yvonne Moebs presented the findings to county leaders at Monday’s commission meeting and said she couldn’t make a determination on the guilt of Barber or the number of copies he made on the county’s dime. That decision is expected to be made at a December commission meeting.
But according to staff interviews included in Moebs’ 142-page report, Barber used the county copier — sometimes until it ran out of toner — for months to produce materials promoting his business, Farm Fresh Produce.
County officials asked Moebs to investigate Barber’s use of the county’s copier in September — roughly nine months after Chairman Jim Sides first approached Barber about the copies. County leaders said Barber continued to make copies even after the issue was addressed during a closed-session meeting.
Barber has maintained that the censure investigation, used to publicly reprimand him, began after Barber made critical remarks about the county to the Post and Salisbury City Council.
But in a Q&A between Moebs and County Manager Gary Page, Page said the copies started slowly and escalated over time.
“It started out maybe 100 to 150 copies,” Page told Moebs, “when it went over 500 copies I began to get a little concerned that if it were … for public purposes to benefit the citizens, it wasn’t a big deal. But if it were for his personal business it bothered me, which it could get out of hand.”
Page said the board went into closed session in January “with the purpose of just talking to Jon about it and to get a clarification of exactly what he was doing.”
By then, Page said, the estimated number of copies had skyrocketed.
“We, the staff and I, said it was over 2,000, staff will probably say it was maybe like 3,000 or 4,000. I never kept count. I just know it was a large number.”
Copies were frequently made during the weekend, Page said, and staff pinpointed Barber after several instances where the copy machine jammed or ran out of toner.
“So we would come in and the first things we do is turn the copier on,” Page said, “we would see there was a problem. Upon clearing the machine, the copier would finish printing the job, this is when you would see what the material was.”
Carolyn Barger, clerk to the county commission. told Moebs she became aware of the copies in May 2012.
“ … We came in, our copier in the work area was jammed and also out of toner. So when we repaired all the jams and replaced toner, the machine kicked in with the current copy jobs. It was a color flyer for Commissioner Barber’s business or apparently for a huge event he was running the flyer for that was at Farm Fresh Produce, his business.”
The findings also included a $30 check Barber wrote commissioners on Jan. 14 to reimburse the county.
Along with the check, Barber referenced roughly $3,600 for reimbursable cell phone charges that weren’t expensed. Barber calculated the amount based on six years at $50 a month.
At the presentation Monday, Barber argued that he had saved the county thousands by not taking pay raises and benefits since joining the board.
“I’m the only commissioner for the last seven years to not accept a pay raise. I’ve never submitted an expense report for the last seven years while spending thousands of dollars out of my own pocket,” Barber said. “I refused to accept a monthly stipend to attend meetings because of my appointment to the board of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, formerly known as Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare. And I’ve saved the county over $36,000 by refusing to accept benefits available to county commissioners.”
When asked about Barber’s explanation for the copies, Barger said the board didn’t accept Barber’s check because of the amount.
“The commissioners refused to accept the check,” she said, “because it didn’t come close to covering the cost of colored copies, etc.”
When reached by phone Thursday, Barber reiterated his refusal to accept benefits and pay raises from the county.
Barber also said his efforts with Mobile Farm Fresh have led to positive recognition — from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Association of Counties News — for the county.
“Because of my efforts Rowan County has been positively recognized by two national publications in the last 90 days on the efforts related to helping low-income communities with a mobile farmer’s market,” he said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.