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Commission hands Barber investigation to prosecutors

SALISBURY — County officials voted to send a censure investigation against Commissioner Jon Barber to District Attorney Brandy Cook’s office during Monday’s commission meeting.
The board stopped short of the next step in the censure process and handed off the investigation findings — which contained staff interviews — regarding Barber’s use of the county copier machine.
That next step would have been a legal proceeding undertaken by the board against Barber.
But Barber and his attorneys said he was not interviewed during the process and was not permitted to present evidence that would clear his name.
The board alleges that Barber wasted thousands of pages of county paper for personal use. Barber said the materials were made for county projects and community programs.
Vice Chairman Craig Pierce made the motion to give the investigation to local prosecutors. Commissioner Mike Caskey seconded the measure, and Chairman Jim Sides and Commissioner Chad Mitchell voted in favor.
During the public comment period Monday, Attorney Todd Paris, who is the father of City Manager Doug Paris, said the county has refused to allow Barber to provide information that would help his case.
Barber was also represented by local attorney Pete Hoffman and Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin.
“We understand that you may not have desired our client to be interviewed by County Risk Manager Yvonne Moebs,” Paris said. “We also understand that you may not desire our client to present evidence. Further, we understand that you may not desire to be cross-examined in a public setting. We understand that all three could be politically risky for you as an elected official, however it is far riskier to take action as a board based on an incomplete, one-sided investigation — one in which our client has not been interviewed, one in which our client has not presented evidence and one in which those involved have not been cross-examined.”
Because the censure process ended when the board passed the matter along to the District Attorney’s Office, Sides said, he thought Moebs’ investigation was fair, despite not including Barber’s interview.
“You can ask the other commissioners what their thoughts were. I sort of went along with them to a degree under protest,” Sides said about the decision to hand the investigation over to authorities.
“According to our rules, yes,” Sides said when asked about the fairness of Moebs investigation. “She did a basic investigation. She did not do a thorough investigation. She came up with a recommendation to us based on her investigation. I think it was fair. (Barber’s) argument would have merit had we gone to a quasi-judicial hearing with the censure process. Since we didn’t go that far, his argument doesn’t have merit.”
In Moebs’ findings, she told commissioners Barber had used the county copier, but she could not determine exactly how many copies Barber made or estimate the costs. In her report, Moebs said other county staff members — including County Manager Gary Page — estimated Barber made more than 4,000 copies at the county administration building.
She did not make a recommendation as to how the board should proceed.
When asked why commissioners didn’t go forward with the censure proceedings, Sides said, “You’ll have to ask the other commissioners.”
Barber has said the copies were for county projects or community programs and said the investigation was prompted after he made critical comments about the board to the Post and at a Salisbury City Council meeting.
In a statement released Monday night, Barber’s attorneys said their client’s rights were violated.
“We are terribly disappointed in tonight’s meeting; however, it was expected,” the statement said. “Had the Rowan County Board of Commissioners pursued censure, then the Ethics Rules clearly gives Mr. Barber a right to due process, due notice, a hearing, and an opportunity to confront and cross examine his accusers. He was granted none of these rights.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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