Monday, April 04, 2011

Putting the Political Strong-Arm on Republican County Commissioners

A public records request was made on March 23 for emails to and from Watauga County Commissioners and any other documents related to the discussion of and decision about the March 15 rescinding of the resolution to hold a public referendum in Watauga County on the question of a quarter-cent sales tax increase

To recap:

1. Feb. 25-26, 2011 – at their “pre-budget retreat,” Watauga County Commission gets a good look at funding pressures for the 2012 budget

2. March 1, 2011 – less than 70 hours after the “pre-budget retreat,” the Republican majority on the Watauga County Commission adopt a resolution to hold a public referendum on a quarter-cent sales tax increase, on a vote of 3-1, with Democratic Commissioner Tim Futrelle dissenting (Democratic Commissioner Jim Deal was absent). The Commission notifies the Watauga County Board of Elections to prepare for a referendum and schedules
a public hearing on the resolution for March 15 (though a public hearing is not required, especially as the Commission has already passed its resolution)

3. March 7, 2011 – the Boone Tea Party, in an e-mail to 200+ members, endorses the tax increase, which is followed by some significant dissent within the group

4. March 9, 2011 – the Media Committee of the Watauga County Republican Party writes and submits a column supporting the sales tax increase to the Watauga Democrat, which is published, after the Committee has run the text by Commission Chair Nathan Miller. The column makes a strong case for the need for a tax increase to save 69-plus teacher positions due to anticipated state budget cuts.

5. March 15, 2011 – following the public hearing, where a lop-sided majority spoke in favor of a sales tax increase “to save public education,” and after the public had mainly exited the meeting, the Republican commissioners completely reversed course and voted to rescind the resolution they had voted on just two weeks prior ... on a vote of 3-2, with both Democratic commissioners dissenting.

Email traffic to and from the Republican members of the County Commission reveal what also happened between March 1 and March 15.


Anonymous said...

VERY interesting reading. How the heck did this stuff get into the public record????

Most interesting to me was that Deborah Greene says SHE wrote to Soucek and Jordan and told them to call the R Commissioners and tell them there would not be any need for a sales increase because there would be no cuts coming from the state. She says in her email that Soucek and Jordan complied with her request. So when Gable says "he spoke with some state legislators," he meant because they called him at Greene's request, right?

I also love her How to Read a Budget lessons to the commissioners.

LOL. Greene says she is unafilliated but then goes on and on about how hard she worked for the Republicans and fears the Democrats will retake the commission. She's some kind of unaffiliated, eh?

So now we at least know this:

(1) Deborah Greene is running county government, telling the R Commissioners exactly what to do and they oblige, and

(2) The R commissioners haven't a clue how to even read a budget, much less make any decisions about where to head or what to do.

We got a bunch of losers all the way around.

Jack said...


Henery said...

Oh wow. So our county government is being run by Deborah Greene! What's funniest, though, in this pile of documents is how D.G. talks to the commissioners. She addresses them like they're slightly slow children who need both a firm hand and heroic patience.

Thanks for posting this, for doing the work of a journalist! It certainly does shed light on the REAL lack of a values "rudder" among both the Tea Party and the Republicans. They say PUBLICLY whatever they think their commissioners want them to believe. Changes from day to day.

Skeptical said...

There is no way these emails could be a part of a public record. How did you really get them? There is no way internal political emails would be a part of the public record on the referendum.

Anonymous said...

Question: if these are really from the public record, then why hasn't the local press reported on it? That's my question.

Anonymous said...

Deborah Greene speaks to the commissioners like children because that's what they are. She is WAY smarter than them.

NOVEMBER ! said...

I'm shocked! SHOCKED! I tell you....

Imagine citizens exercising their constitutional rights and communicating their opinions to their elected representatives.

Especially Ms Greene. Just how many times does she think she should be allowed to write to her representatives?! The nerve of her!

ROFLMAO said...

Going after the Boone Town Council because they support Same-Sex Marriage? Yeah, good luck with that.

Greene: "We have worked way too hard to get Republican control." How on earth can she present herself as unaffiliated?

Who called one of the commissioners a "despicable human being?" What's that all about?

I love where in the Lesson Plans, Greene tells the commissioners where to "take a break".

Nate Di Cola--"We have met the enemy and it is us."


Anonymous said...

The commissioners must have been abusing the public e-mail system provided by the county for partisan political purposes.

How tragic that while teacher are getting laid off, our "representatives" are worried about re-election. Gable is up for re-election in 2012...let's send a message!

Anonymous said...

How are Soucek and Jordan going to explain their phone calls to the commissioners when they do indeed cut the education budget?

Anonymous said...

Of course they're public record. They were sent to county commissioners' official email!

Jack said...

November, strawman.

No one is saying there is anything wrong with writing public officials. All we're doing is savoring the free-for-all and getting to see for a fact who is really pulling the strings of our elected officials.

Anonymous said...

Jack. Welcome to politics.

NOVEMBER ! said...

Jack "...getting to see for a fact who is really pulling the strings of our elected officials."

Oh, yeah....the voters.

But I thought you knew that.

John R. said...

Kudos where due, JW. I don't stand with you on this issue, but I have to say this is some really interesting background, and shame on the Republicans (of which I am one) for being so ignorant as to explore their political agenda through the county email servers. If the local newspapers did this kind of reporting, I might be inclined to buy a paper once in a while.

Anonymous said...

JW, your supposed grand exposure is really much ado about nothing.

Beware, JW and PAM, your attempt to expose, heaven forbid, citizens actually communicating with their state representatives and commissioners may backfire on you.

Anonymous said...

JW, it is evident your revelation and exposure of public records is obviously a very SELECTIVE job. You certainly did not print them all, but only some.

But I guess you have to do something to keep your boys from getting the blame for the disastrous county finances. Anything to divert attention away from the real culprits, huh?

Deborah Greene said...


Thanks for the journalism. And, as you can see I follow the rules and communicate using the government email cite. As you know I couldn't get the emails sent out from and to the prior commissioners because they used their personal emails; I was told that I would have to ask them for them. And, just for the record, how long did it take for you get a response? In the past, it took months to respond; they claimed that they had to separate public from non-public information. I also noticed that the email addresses were blacked out on some of these requests. Did you do that or did they do that? If they did, why? I only communicated with the commissioners and also copied Tom Mayer at the newspaper (I don't see why that would be confidential, do you?) I made a similar requests from the school board for an email log and after months and months, I withdrew the requests because it was costing them a considerable amount of time to separate public/confidential from non-public/non-confidential. They shouldn't use email for confidential communications because it is not a safe/confidential environment.

Anyway, thanks for the report and attachments. We need to keep government open!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jerry, are you sure Deborah Greene didn't help you write some of the run down on these people? Get a load at her description!

That's really unfair!

Pam Williamson said...

Deborah, tip of the hat to you. That was a class act response.

this has already been discussed said...

Private notes and emails are not subject to the public records law. That is why they are private. They are the property of the person that owns them.

Deborah Greene said...

For emails as equally or even more interesting, make a request to Superintendent Marty Hemric for emails to the school board members.

And, with regard to the sales tax referendum, check out the emails to Margaret Pierce, the finance director.

Also, Rocky Nelson complained to the local government commission that I had sent over 130 emails to the county; they were obviously a sore spot with him (or Commissioner Deal who it appears might have really penned the letter).

And, did you note that I don't communicate with the Democrat Commissioners?

Opinionated said...

Nobody is criticizing people for communicating with their elected representatives. I have done so on occasion in the past and those e-mails were part of the public record.

The interesting part of the whole exchange is the apparent lack of preparedness or understanding by the 3 new commissioners.

I'm with Deborah on this - hooray for open government.

Anonymous said...

Deborah, of course you didn't communicate with the DemocratIC commissioners. That's because the letters indicate your biggest concern (or one of them) was to not undermine Jordan and Soucek. It was all about Republican partisanship with you as is clearly evident from the letters. That's why it's ridiculous for you to claim you are not a Republican.

Ralph said...

What I find the most interesting in the read (other than the Pam Williamson is the Devil Incarnate) is that Bolster is the one who wrote Gable's response that was in the newspaper a week or so ago. And he said it represented ALL of the R commissioners. Gable can't even write his own letters.

Henery said...

LOL. Just this minute read Don Bolster's letter to the editor in Sunday's Watauga Democrat. Can't imagine he would have published such a complete repudiation of his previous positions (counting the stuff he wrote for both the Republican Party and for Vince Gable) if he had seen what you posted this morning.

He's saying in effect, "All prior statements are now inoperative."

The guy has twisted himself into a pretzel shape trying to cover for "his boys" on the County Commission.

Henery said...

P.S. Bolster begins his letter with this: "After attending the March 15 sales tax referendum meeting, and then reading the new Watauga County commissioners' newspaper column...."

Bolster WROTE that column, as is clear from the pdf you linked.

I guess we can feel confident in the competency of the local GOP that Mr. Bolster finally got around to reading what he wrote!

amjp said...

Did you notice how many spelling mistakes Deborah Greene made - here in the comments and in the documents JW unearthed.

Tea Party Guy said...

Thanks for posting this, although it's painfully embarassing. Also appreciate D. Greene's response and Pam's acknowledgement of her "class." Let's hope it's just part of a "learning curve" for the new conservative commissioners.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Bolster comes out really bad in the materials and in the fact he's always wording things to stay just shy of an outright lie. His letter today says "after I read the letter" implying the commissioners wrote the letter when in fact he did. He's trying to fool the people and should be called on it as a liar.

Anonymous said...

If by "learning curve" you mean "crap, they didn't get this week's Tea Party script" then you are right. I wonder if anyone at the public hearing saw the strings pulling these puppets?

Anonymous said...

The only 'learning curve' I saw was the staged event being 'pulled' off by Deal and his indoctrination bureaucracy trying to pull a fast one at the expense of the taxpayers.

Deborah Greene said...

I could definitely use an editor. Did you also notice the errors in grammar too? I did pretty good in spelling when I was in elementary school - all As; however, as I get older, it gets worse or maybe it is just plain sloppiness (sp?) I hope you get the point of my communications despite the spelling errors.

And, as a side note, the commissioners have mentioned that I send an awful lot of emails and that it is hard for them to keep up. I wouldn't doubt that they see my name and hit the delete button. Emailing them is like blogging; I work off the frustration even when communicating the mentally challenged.

So, if anyone is inclined, they would probably love to hear from some new blood.

Sarah said...

I just got around to reading the posted emails this morning. It is truly sickening. The commissioners didn't give one whit about what the best thing to do was. They came to a public hearing they called (supposedly to get input from the citizens) with minds already made up that they would rescind the referendum because so much pressure was put on them by the local Tea Party and Deborah Greene. The Tea Party is clearly a front group for the right wing of the Republican Party, and Greene, who puts herself out there as a non-partisan hero who brings the "facts" to the table is also simply nothing more than a political hack. Bolster, as has been said earlier, is obviously a complete liar who spends his time trying to figure out how to cover for whichever changing position the ignorant commissioners take on any given day. He lies to us through his letters on a regular basis. I am disgusted. None of the people I mention above has even a remote interest in doing the right thing for the county.

Deborah Greene said...

This stuff got into public record because it was sent over the public email network deliberately with full knowledge that it was public. Nothing to hide because all of this same information was in the news and on blogs. Communications with commissioners, Rocky Nelson, and all other county employees is public information. They claim that there is confidential communications (ie social services); however, they shouldn't be using the internet for such because it is not confidential. Again, you can ask for the information also. In fact, to save money, you can ask for an email log which they can put on disk and you can pick and choose which communications you want.

There is a real interesting one where Joe Furman communicates with a real estate person about the Brookshire property. The county is asked for a tax break. And, the record shows that the county gave the tax break. However, the county had an appraisal that showed the property was worth less than the "donation" (tax break)to the tune of $1 million. So, it looks like tax fraud instead.

I have been making email log requests for years. The first time was a charm; every department head had to go through the logs and black out all confidential emails and it took months and months and months. They learned a lesson because the next request took only months. And, it looks like they have gotten the response to requests down to a science because it took JW a lot less time; or, it could be he is more relentless than I.

Anonymous said...

Remember how what is now the "Tea Party" spent thousands of dollars running full-page ads and cartoons in the newspaper three years ago about how the Town Council was nothing more than puppets for Pam Williamson? Well just look at how they pull the strings on these Republican commissioners. What a bunch of hypocrites. We should all know by now that whatever they are bitching about publicly is exactly what they are always doing themselves behind the scenes.

Schoolmarm said...

Blogger amjp said...

Did you notice how many spelling mistakes Deborah Greene made - here in the comments and in the documents JW unearthed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
And, did you notice that amjp doesn't seem to know that an interrogatory should be punctuated with a question mark, not a period?

ajenn said...

What I have learned most from reading these emails is that our county has a "state of the art" high school that rivals any in NC,..the Dem.-controlled county commissioners must not have done such a horrible job because of the surplus of funds available and were actually under-budget in many areas, Deborah Greene is a party-line Republican (regardless of rumors that she isn't,..and there is nothing wrong with her choices) and there is no such thing as a DINO!

NOVEMBER ! said...

As far as I can determine, Deborah Greene is a conservative who changed her registration from Republican to Unaffiliated. She has every right to register how she wants to and to vote however she wants to.

She owes no explanations to any of us.

Take notice also that MOST of the unaffilated voters voted Republican in the last election.

I expect you will see the same thing in 2012, but it's anybody's guess.

I Happen to Know said...

Jerry, you might also want to look into this: the 3 Republican commissioners are making most of their decisions prior to meetings via conference calls between the three on them. This is illegal.

Anonymous said...

Since this all so transparently shows that the REpublican County Commissioners are in constant violation of North Carolina's Open Meetings Law (since they represent a majority and are having discussions with each other and making policy behind closed doors) I assume they'll turn themselves into the DA for prosecution. Or maybe somebody needs to make a complaint to the SBI or NC attorney general? Open government? Sure.

Anonymous said...

How do you know about private phone conversations unless you have wire taps which are also illegal?

Could it be you are trying to blow smoke up our butts?

Deborah Greene said...

There is a distinct difference in complying with public record laws with the current board and the prior board. The following email correspondence with Deron Geougue where I asked for copies of email correspondence with regard to the August 2010 Sales Tax Referendum. Remember JW's post at the request of Commissioner Deal. My request began on 8/19/2010 and I have never gotten a copy of the email. However, this email trail confirms Commissioner Deal used his private instead of his public email address to conduct county business.
Email to Deron Geougue, Assistant County Manager on 8/19/2010 [Correction to previous post; my request began on 8/19/2010 and I have yet to receive a copy of the requested item.]

To: Deron Geouque
Cc: High Country Press ;
Sent: Thu, August 19, 2010 12:43:31 AM

County Manager and County Commissioners:

I spoke with JW Williamson today. He has assured me that he forwarded this message at the request of the county commissioners. He said specifically that Chairman Deal asked him to do this as standard media service for the commissioners. [You can request the rest of the email; shortened for HCP blog]

I respectfully request a copy of the email request made to Mr. Williamson.

Deborah Greene
After several followups this is the response I get [they were having trouble locating it as you can see]

On Sep 3, 2010, at 4:20 PM, Deron Geouque wrote:
Ms. Greene:

I have requested IT staff to review all commissioners’ county email accounts to determine if the email you requested originated from the County’s email system. I will notify you of when this process is completed.

Deron Geouque
Deputy County Manager
Watauga County
814 West King Street
Boone, NC 28607
(P) 828-265-8000
(F) 828-264-3230

Deborah Greene said...

Following is email from County Attorney at the time to Deron Geougue regarding my request:

From: Anthony di Santi []

Sent: Monday, September 27, 2010 5:42 PM
To: Deron Geouque
Cc: Rocky.Nelson
Subject: Public Records Request


This email is to respond to your inquiry regarding a public records request by Ms. Greene for an email that was allegedly sent by Mr. Deal and which pertained to the recent referendum regarding the ¼ cent sales tax. I understand that the county’s IT department has investigated the request, and has determined that the email did not originate on the county system, nor is there any evidence that it was sent by Mr. Deal on behalf of the county. The email in question does not indicate from whom it was sent, or so I have been told, as I have not seen a copy of the email, and it is my understanding that you have not as well.

The information that it was sent by Mr. Deal allegedly was provided to Ms. Greene by J.W. Williamson, whom I understand disseminated the email. I have not inquired of Mr. Deal if he did send the email, and I understand that you have not as well. Although Mr. Deal is a county commissioner, Mr. Deal is also a private citizen who has the right to privately advocate for any position he chooses. As I am confident that Mr. Deal realized that it would be inappropriate for Mr. Deal to use county funds to advocate for the issue, if he did send the email, the email would have come from his private email account. I do not believe that there is any question as to Mr. Deal’s, or any other county commissioner’s, position regarding the referendum. Therefore, assuming Mr. Deal was the originator of the email, which has not been substantiated, other than an assertion by Ms. Greene that the information came from Mr. Williamson, the email is a private matter for which Ms. Greene may contact Mr. Deal. Mr. Deal will have no obligation to substantiate his private position on the issue to Ms. Greene. ASD

Anthony S. di Santi
di Santi Watson Capua & Wilson
642 W. King Street
PO Box 193
I sent another email to Deron with a copy JW's email showing that I did not have a copy of the email from Commissioner Deal to JW; I only had an email from JW alleging that Commissioner Deal had sent him the information. I wanted the proof. And, as you can see from the attorney's response from above, it was an absolute necessity.

To: Deron Geouque
Subject: Re: Public Records Request

I have forwarded you a copy of my original email to you that did in fact include a copy of the email (URGENT DEMAND FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION). I did not get a copy from JW Williamson. I actually got several copies from different people who received the email. The email alleges that it is being sent on behalf of the county commissioners and not private citizens. And, yes, it is true that Mr. Williamson is the one who told me that it was sent to him by Jim Deal to be sent out as any other media outlet. I will forward Mr. DiSanti a copy. If the county commissioners didn't have anything to do with this, then they need to send me a letter in writing stating such

Deborah Greene

Deborah Greene said...

Finally, we are told that Commissioner Deal used his personal email. And, as you can see it was go to court or drop it.

From: Deron Geouque
To: ip401k
Sent: Wed, October 6, 2010 12:35:37 PM
Subject: RE: Public Records Request

Ms. Greene:

With regards to your September 29, 2010 email, the County Attorney has confirmed that the email was sent by Mr. Deal on his private email account. The email does not state that it is being sent on behalf of or at the request of the county commissioners. It does state that the Democratic Commissioners are soliciting help in the passage of the referendum. It is apparent that you have a copy of the email being requesting, as you have provided a copy to the county. The County Attorney is of the opinion, that you have possession of the document for which you have made the public records request.

In the County Attorney’s opinion, the law does not require the county to expend time and funds to produce a document that the requesting party already has in their possession.

Thank you.
Deron Geouque
Deputy County Manager
Watauga County
814 West King Street
Boone, NC 28607
(P) 828-265-8000
(F) 828-264-3230

inquiringmind said...

About the commissioners calling each other. If this is going on, which I have suspected for years with both Democrats and Republicans (they learn from each other and pass it down to new members year to year), then it is perfectly legal as long as only 2 are on the phone line at any particular time. Now, if they are conferencing in a 3rd commissioner, then that would be a violation. Good luck proving that. However, you should be more concerned with the abuse of closed session. It is more obvious and easier to prove; however, the court costs to hold them accountable may be more difficult to swallow. Lets hope the new legislation passes which will guarantee attorney fee awards and give the Attorney General more power. And, by the way, you know that they all get together and play golf with the county manager too. Anyone care to stake out the golf course and take photos.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, it has been my opinion, and I'm sure others note the same, that the county leaders are a bipartisan club, comprised of a comparative few, and only the powerful, with predetermined plans, and special interests benefit.