Polk majority apologizes to former commissioners

Published 10:51 pm Thursday, October 2, 2014

by Leah Justice


The majority of Polk County Commissioners made public apologies to former commissioners Tommy Melton and Warren Watson regarding closed session minutes discussed at the Sept. 8 meeting where commissioner Michael Gage said it was his opinion the former board intended to do something illegal.

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Commissioners met Sept. 22 and heard from Melton and Watson during citizen comments.

Watson said we all know it’s         political season, but he didn’t like being dragged into it.

During the Sept. 8 meeting, Gage brought up closed session minutes from 2010 where the former board discussed water/sewer charges and business and property taxes then owed by Woodland Mills. According to the 2010 minutes, the board, consisting of former commissioners Melton, Watson, Renée McDermott, Cindy Walker and current commissioner Ray Gasperson, was willing to settle for $100,000 if acceptable by the tax assessor. Board of commissioners cannot compromise on taxes. The action discussed in the 2010 closed session was never acted on and Woodland Mills later paid the bill.

Gage said on Sept. 22, “there’s no doubt in my mind, they were considering breaking the law. But that’s my personal opinion.”

Watson said the bottom line is the 2010 board did not intend to break any laws.

He also said he had a discussion with Gage and accepts Gage’s apology.

Melton asked for the board’s apology during the Sept. 22 meeting.

Commissioner chair Ted Owens said he apologized. Gage said he was referencing what was in minutes and said, “I do apologize to you.”

Commissioner Tom Pack said he never implied that the board was breaking the law or had intent to break the law but if the former commissioners think that he did, he does apologize.

Commissioner Keith Holbert said he did not say anything regarding the minutes during the Sept. 8 meeting but he did apologize for tolerating it.

In another agenda item during the Sept. 22 meeting regarding the approval of minutes, commissioner Ray Gasperson addressed how other commissioners handled the 2010 closed session minutes. Gasperson said what happened in the last meeting regarding what Gage said to him and what Pack said, “to me, both these statements were slanderous.”

Gasperson also said it was a break down of the commissioners’ rules of decorum, especially when the chair took direction from Pack to have McDermott removed from the meeting.

2008 minute approval

Commissioners also on Sept. 22 approved minutes from 2008 that were inadvertently not approved at the time.

Gasperson addressed those minutes and received an opinion from county attorney Jana Berg that what that board almost did could have been challenged in court.

The board from 2008 was Melton, Watson, former commissioner Harry Denton and current commissioners Owens and Pack.

The 2008 minutes regarded the board considering relieving interest and penalties charged to two Polk businesses for business personal taxes discovered.

According to the minutes, commissioners Owens and Pack motioned to approve relieving the taxes and penalties, while commissioners Denton, Melton and Watson voted against it.

Gasperson thanked Denton, Melton and Watson for voting against relieving the interest and penalties. Although it is in state statutes that a board can relieve interest and penalties on discoverable taxes, Gasperson said an article by the N.C. Institute of Government says if challenged, the statute will most likely be found unconstitutional.

Gasperson said if the businesses had received what they wanted, it would have been a green light for anyone else in the county to get interest and penalties removed knowing all they had to do was go to commissioners to get their penalties removed.

Berg said that part of the statute does allow commissioners to waive taxes, penalties and interest only in discoverable taxes. She said the statute has never been challenged in court but if it came before her, she would advise the board not to relieve taxes, penalties and interest. She also said in this case it didn’t happen, so it’s a moot point.

Holbert said just to make the rest of the story make sense, business personal tax forms were not mailed out at the time and he as well as others paid their penalties.

Gage said at the time the county was trying to educate people about business personal taxes and most people were confused.

“I think there were probably a lot of people in here wanting to know why they were being taxed for something they didn’t know about,” Gage said.

Pack said the board is talking about two different things regarding the 2008 and 2010 minutes. The March 2008 meeting was in open session, Pack said.

“We tried to relieve penalties and interest on taxpayers, which is allowed by state statute,” said Pack. “We didn’t try to go behind closed doors to do something not allowed for a business. We did it in open session; something that was allowed.”