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Bladen County Commissioners Heated in Personnel Discussion

By Erin Smith

A large crowd gathered at the Bladen County Courthouse on Monday night, forcing the Commissioners’ meeting to be moved to the Superior Court Room. They were present for a discussion regarding a personnel matter at the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, which became heated.

The matter dealt with the hiring of Kate McVicker, who is the daughter-in-law of Bladen County Sheriff, Jim McVicker. She was hired in July 2017 to serve as a background investigator, verifying employee certifications and maintaining personal records.

Bladen County Manager, Greg Martin, said the Sheriff’s Office personnel are separate from other county personnel. They are hired through the Sheriff’s Office, much like employees of the Bladen County School system are hired through the school system. Martin said the County Commissioners provide the funding for the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff McVicker addressed the Commissioners during the Matters of Interest to Commissioners time. He began his remarks by explaining the situation.

“The interest tonight is one of my employees, Kate McVicker. She was hired in July of last year part-time as a background investigator,” said Sheriff McVicker.

He explained he felt it was important to have a background investigator, and Kate McVicker applied for the position and was hired. Sheriff McVicker stated Kate McVicker has a degree in human services from Elon College, worked for the NC State Bureau of Investigations, and the NC Highway Patrol.

“When I came into office, a lot of the personnel records were in shambles. What I mean by that, we had employees working here that weren’t even certified through State Training and Standards from the previous administration. It was very important that we do it right, have our paperwork right, and do a thorough investigation (on new employees),” said Sheriff McVicker.

He stated that on Friday, it was brought to his attention that her hiring was not handled correctly. Sheriff McVicker requested the Commissioners to approve her hiring and make it retroactive to her start date.

Bladen County Commissioner Chairman, Ray Britt, addressed the matter first.

“When this was brought to my attention, I got a letter regarding it, and I immediately contacted the County Manager and also legal counsel, and also the School of Government and also spoke with our insurance company,” said Britt.

He called on County Attorney Allen Johnson to brief the board in regard to the issue. Johnson said as of Monday evening, he could not find any authority that says the Board of Commissioners cannot entertain a motion to Kate McVicker as Sheriff McVicker requested.

Bladen County Manager, Greg Martin, added there appears to be no real case law on such an issue, and it appears to be at the Board of Commissioners discretion whether to approve the hiring of Kate McVicker and make it retroactive.

“Sheriff, I would like to say as Chairman, I’ve made my share of mistakes and I try to read and I try to stay on top of things. I feel you were trying to look down the road to protect this county from any future lawsuits that may occur if we did not have the proper people in place,” said Chairman Britt.

He recommended to the board approving Kate McVicker’s hiring. Commissioner David Gooden moved to approve the hiring of Kate McVicker.

Commissioners Ophelia Munn-Goins and Michael Cogdell immediately objected.

“This is a matter of interest to commissioners. We can’t do that and it’s money,” said Commissioner Munn-Goins.

Britt assured the board there would be time to discuss the matter.

“You can’t carry a motion when you’ve got people signed up (to speak),” said Commissioner Munn-Goins.

“This is Matters of Interest to the Commissioners. It’s of interest,” said Chairman Britt.

“Mr. Chair, was this something you already knew before the board meeting?” asked Commissioner Munn-Goins.

“I wanted the people out there to hear it instead of going into closed session,” said Chairman Britt. “These are the residents (the audience) and I wanted them to hear without somebody leaking it as has been done before in the past.”

Commissioner Munn-Goins argued that she has always been told the board cannot vote on anything financial until the next regular meeting.

Attorney Johnson said it has been the general practice of the board to wait until the next meeting to vote.

Commissioner Cogdell said, “I’m sitting here and we are having a discussion about an incident we weren’t aware of, just like you weren’t aware of. Mr. McVicker, from all indications I hear, he did a procedure that was incorrect. He did that. He violated statutes, and he did something incorrectly. Now we are sitting here getting ready to vote on something he did incorrectly and I am trying to figure it out.”

Cogdell added he does not know what duties Kate McVicker is assigned nor her rate of pay.

“Who else applied for this position?” asked Commissioner Cogdell. “If we will do this, let’s put it off to the next board meeting and deal with this matter.”

Commissioner Cogdell also pointed out both Martin and Johnson had been researching the matter for only a few days and were not 100 percent sure of the legal ramifications.

“That is why we contacted the proper authorities,” said Chairman Britt.

“He (Attorney Johnson) said the legalities of this are still not 100 percent known. We are not just dealing with a personal issue, we’re dealing with a legal issue,” said Commissioner Cogdell.

The meeting was quickly called back into order by Chairman Britt, and the discussion returned to Commissioner Gooden’s earlier motion to approve the hiring of Kate McVicker.

Commissioner Arthur Bullock requested to be allowed to speak. “What he did, was that an illegal act?” asked Commissioner Bullock.

“The term illegal means it violates the statute. As far as any legal ramifications, to this point we could find nothing, it could lead to what they call a case of first impression if a county lawsuit is involved. For any lawsuits, I reserve any rights about that,” said Attorney Johnson.

“But he violated the NC Statute?” asked Commissioner Bullock.

Attorney Johnson reiterated the statute reads by blood or someone who is kin through marriage.  Chairman Britt reminded the board that the Commissioners can vote to accept Kate McVicker or to deny her hiring.

Commissioner Bullock asked if the board would be considered co-conspirators if the issue developed into a lawsuit. There was no clear answer to the question.

Attorney Johnson said there is nothing in the statutes that would prevent the board from voting to hire Kate McVicker and making it retroactive.

County Manager, Greg Martin, added that by the board acting in open session, it negates any conspiracy or secrecy regarding the matter.

Chairman Britt called for a vote and the vote was 5-4 in favor of hiring Kate McVicker and making it retroactive to her July 2017 hire date. Commissioners Russell Priest, Arthur Bullock, Michael Cogdell, and Ophelia Munn-Goins cast the no votes.

Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson requested that Attorney Johnson investigate how confidential information is continually being leaked to the public. Commissioner Munn-Goins also requested that an investigation is made into the foreclosed properties and how people know about them, and why only a select number of people know of them.

Commissioner Cogdell requested in writing to know what all the legal ramifications of the board’s decision will be.

Following the vote, Patsy Shepherd addressed the board regarding the matter.

“If anybody else had broken the law and come before you, you would not have said, ‘That’s okay,’” said Shepherd. “The next time a county employee embezzles money from this county, that’s what I expect you to do.”

Shepherd stated that Sheriff McVicker violated the law, and he has received training over the years about the laws.

“I think it’s a disgrace when the most powerful law enforcement officer in the county says, ‘I don’t know the law,’” said Shepherd.

She stated the issue is not a partisan issue but a matter of “right and wrong.”

“When an elected official, or an employee violates the law, they should be held to the same standards, and you are not doing that,” said Shepherd.

The courtroom erupted into applause when she finished her statement.

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