JEFFERSON-Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan hasn’t gotten a fair shake and the events leading up to an active NCSBI investigation into county affairs came as a result of misrepresentation – not a misunderstanding.
That’s the view of Ashe County Commissioner Paula Perry, who released a statement Monday in response to community concerns following a raucous public hearing held on Sept. 25, at the Ashe County Courthouse.
Perry’s detailed statement covered everything from why she voted to install Buchanan as Ashe County Sheriff in January to critical commentary on Ann Clark, Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, who said earlier this summer Buchanan had launched an active investigation – that later grew to include SBI participation – into her efforts to fulfill an open records request submitted by Charlotte-based TV station WBTV in April.
A problem out of hand?
Perry said Monday she could not answer certain personnel questions asked by the community, but said “it looks like our not responding is only legitimizing a problem that has gotten fully out of hand.”
She said the majority of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, including herself, Commissioner Jeff Rose and Commissioner Gary Roark, felt a change was necessary in the appointment of Buchanan in January.
“It was not an easy decision to make,” Perry said. “We saw the need to make a change due to the two shootings of two residents on their own property that occurred under the prior administration. Both shootings have resulted in lawsuits filed against the Ashe County Sheriff’s Department.”
Further, she said the board heard appeals from past and current sheriff’s office employees who asked for a change in leadership.
“Several of us received many comments from the public saying there has been a ‘good old boy system going on for way too long in this county,” Perry said.
When former Sheriff James Williams retired in December midway through his last term in office, Buchanan was among three qualified applicants to apply for the post, along with former ACSO Chief Deputy Bucky Absher who many expected to fill the post vacated by Williams.
She said the board cast its ballots for Buchanan because it felt a responsibility to not allow Ashe County to remain under the same law enforcement leadership.
“Sheriff Buchanan has not been given the opportunity from the opposing viewpoint holders since day one to concentrate on the department, and helping the department to strengthen and be united,” Perry said. “He is a different person than the prior management as he thinks differently, he acts differently, he speaks differently, but he is the Sheriff, and should not have to fight the prior administration each waking moment.”
Perry said Ashe County citizens have two options – either get behind Buchanan and support him or vote against him if he selects to run for election in 2018.
“However, whatever decision you make, respect the office and all the employees for one day you may need their help,” Perry said.
‘Free speech is for all people’
She also addressed the board’s Sept. 25, public hearing, which included both supportive and critical commentary of the board and Buchanan, gratitude for the board’s stand on its fight against a proposed Glendale Springs asphalt plant, among other issues.
“It became very obvious that some wanted to turn it into a fighting match and worked to intimidate, bully, and insult anyone that disagreed with them,” Perry said. “The right for free speech is for all people, not a select few, and this is not what we as citizens of Ashe County should be about; however, it would be great if this right is used in a professional or courteous manner, even in times of disagreement.”
How can our citizens build our county up for growth, when some are continually trying to tear it down, Perry asked.
“There were some very good requests made from several citizens that were very courteous and respectful from comments about the asphalt plant, the sheriff, the community, and even a request for a crosswalk to protect high school students from being hit by motor vehicles as they cross the street towards Wendy’s at the intersection of the high school,” Perry said.
SBI called in
Perry also turned her attention to clearing up the chain of events surrounding the SBI’s active investigation into county personnel.
“In regard to the statements that were released to the press by the Clerk to the Commissioners: these statements are contradictory to what happened in the situation with the Sheriff and the Clerk to the Commissioners,” Perry said. “I stated in the June 23rd edition of the Jefferson Post, that the Clerk to the Board asked for (Buchanan’s) personal cellphone number and confirmed that she was not requesting any information from it.”
Perry reiterated what she told the Jefferson Post in June, that she was in the room with Buchanan when Clark came into a county conference room and asked Buchanan for the sheriff’s phone number so that text message could be accessed for WBTV’s records request.
Perry said Clark later returned and asked Buchanan for information regarding a second phone number, which Buchanan regarded as his “personal cell phone.” Perry said the number was given to Clark, and Buchanan then asked if Clark was trying to “pull personal info.” Perry said Clark said, “Oh no, we can’t do that, you will have to get that yourself if you have any county business on it.”
Perry said Buchanan said the phone contained no county business and that it was actually “his wife’s personal phone that he also uses.”
“The Information Technology Department (IT) was then given that phone number to run the request on that phone as well as his county phone with the service provider,” Perry said. “That is why I feel this incident is what started the investigation that is going on. I feel this situation is not a misunderstanding, but an act of misrepresentation.”
To her knowledge, Perry said neither the board of commissioners nor County Manager Sam Yearick had approved any release or statement by Clark to the press, and further said Clark released several contradictory statements to local media.
Attempts to reach Clark for comment by email Tuesday were not successful.
Perry then turned her attention to Chairman of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners William Sands.
“The Chairman of the Board also met in private with the Clerk to the Board and in the Information Technology (IT) employees, without any involvement or acknowledgement of the fellow board members,” Perry said. “I feel this caused the SBI investigation, which in turn, has caused the Clerk to the Board and each one of the board members to have been questioned about it.”
Perry finished her remarks with a thank you to supporters.
“The County Commissioners, the County Manager and all the county employees are here to serve all of Ashe County, not just a select few,” Perry said. “We are expected to be accountable and we want to be held accountable, but we have to do this by working together as a whole body and not as a partial body. We want to thank the many of you who have expressed your opinions in a respectful and courteous manner, whether or not you agree with us. We also want to thank those of you who have called or shown gratitude for the changes that you are seeing. God bless you all.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.