Jasmine Beach-Ferrara: email@example.com
Yesterday, a new indictment was filed relating to allegations of fraud, bribes, and kickbacks against former county manager Wanda Greene and now two additional former Buncombe County officials, Mandy Stone and Jon Creighton. What has been alleged in a series of federal indictments shocks the conscience and amounts to a gross abuse of power and public trust. These individuals deserve due process, and we must treat these as allegations, not proven fact. But we must also address the substance of allegations against them and understand the broader narrative they reveal: what happened was not the work of a single corrupt official; it was a culture of corruption and we do not yet know how far it extended. The federal investigation continues and as the latest indictment makes clear, it is possible that there will be more indictments against other individuals.
Today, I’m writing this statement as an individual County Commissioner because I feel an obligation and a responsibility to communicate directly with our community and the district I represent. You are owed answers and accountability. In sharing my analysis, I do not propose to have all the answers. I believe that collectively, we as a community working together will find solutions that no one of us will find on our own through this crisis.
Your County Commission has a responsibility to serve you through this crisis. Buncombe County Commission brings together seven individuals who love our community, have different perspectives on some issues, and have found alignment on other issues like expanding access to Pre-K and responding to the opioid crisis. I have respect and appreciation for fellow Commissioners and believe that the differences in approach and leadership style that distinguish us individually combine to create a stronger governing body.
Some steps have been taken the course of the year, but there is more that we can do at the level of County Commission to protect Buncombe County’s integrity. As we face this ongoing crisis, we must respond with action measures and it is past time for comprehensive reforms. This is a crisis and we must continue working to repair public trust and to put proactive reforms into place to ensure that every tax dollar is spent appropriately and that the county focuses on its singular mission to serve our community.
These are specific actions I advocate for and status reports on areas where steps have been taken in the past year:
- Board of Commissioners to hire an external auditor to conduct an internal forensic investigation related to financial practices, internal controls, and organizational culture. This investigation should also focus on two obvious risks: (1) that active county employees are under, or will become the focus of, the federal investigation and/or active county employees were complicit in misconduct; and (2) that policy or budgetary decisions may come before us involving entities under investigation (e.g. construction contracts).
- Board of Commissioners to conduct annual performance reviews of appointed staff, including the County Manager, Chief Financial Officer and County Clerk. Historically, there has not been a practice of Commission providing annual performance reviews of appointed staff. In January of this year, the Commission committed to putting this practice in place; however the amount of staff turnover in appointed positions since that time has meant the practice has not yet been fully implemented.
- Board of Commissioners to retain an attorney with expertise in federal investigations for the duration of the investigation and until reforms are fully implemented. The goal is to ensure that we fully cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office during the investigation, we are engaged in ongoing risk assessment, we identify opportunities for legal action to recover funds, and that we have legal guidance in implementing reforms. This spring, the Commission hired Attorney Scott Jones to play this role. Relatedly, last fall, the County retained Attorney Ron Payne to work on recovering life insurance funds. This has resulted in the county recovering more than $2 million in a settlement, and a pending civil lawsuit against Wanda Greene and Michael Greene to recover additional funds. As per a statement issued by County Commission last night, Attorneys Jones and Payne are currently assessing yesterday’s indictments as they relate to the pending civil lawsuit, the current status of county contracts with Joseph Wiseman, Jr., and any legal recourse available to the county to recover funds.
- Board of Commissioners to commit to communicating as actively with the public as we can during this period without interfering with the pending criminal investigation. In a crisis, people need accurate, clear information from public officials. This means issuing press releases to communicate with the broader community. It also means your representatives being accessible to constituents in-person and in digital spaces. People have questions, are angry, and also have really good ideas about other reforms we can be implementing. With fellow Commissioner Al Whitesides, I’ve hosted a series of coffee hours around District 1 to be available to our community. This week, I’m also starting “office hours” where I’ll be available for drop-in conversations. I will also be available on Facebook to answer questions.
- Implement best practices as basic protocol to hire our next County Manager and senior management positions. Last night, the Commission voted to move forward with interviewing firms to conduct a national search for our new County Manager. This is a positive step forward. We should be using best practices proactively as basic protocol with every senior management hire. Last year, I advocated for a national search to replace outgoing county manager Wanda Greene, as did Chairman Brownie Newman. At the time, there was no federal investigation - I supported a search because it is a best practice and because our community deserves the best leadership in the country.
I believe we must move through this crisis with accountability and humility. I am accountable to every decision I’ve made as a Commissioner. The investigation is not over, and until we have a full knowledge of the facts, we must understand that there are things we do not know.
This conversation needs to happen at the community level. From 9 - 10:30 AM tomorrow, I’ll be at Penny Cup Coffee downtown at 39 S. Market Street. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there to hear your ideas, listen, and answer any questions I can.
Together, I believe we can find solutions to this crisis and work together to create a system of local government that reflects the integrity and character of the people of Buncombe County. I am committed to moving forward through this crisis with the same values that led me to serve as Commissioner. I am here to work for you.