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New River Service Authority Board Meets, Settles Small Claims Suits, Discusses Other Business Such As Audit

By Jesse Wood

April 5, 2013. The New River Service Authority board met Thursday afternoon for the first time in nearly a year.

The board has representatives from Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Wilkes and Watauga. Due to the weather, representatives from Ashe and Alleghany didn’t attend.

At the meeting, the board members agreed to a $25,000 settlement to be split among 18 former employees of New River Behavioral HealthCare, which collapsed in the fall of 2011. Originally, those employees had filed separate small claims suits in Watauga County District Court, seeking vacation pay in the amount of $90,000 and had all since retained the services of a Jak Reeves, an attorney with offices in West Jefferson.

“Their demands were reasonable and worked within the money we had,” Watauga County Chair Nathan Miller said. “It’s the reason why we worked with these guys.”

With those claims settled and the fact that the federal lawsuit of 79 former employees, which Miller said was a $500 million lawsuit, was dismissed last week in U.S. District Court in Statesville for lack of federal jurisdiction leaves the New River Service Authority without any pending lawsuits.

“It’s been a year and a half since things went south,” Miller said. “Now we are sitting here lawsuit free. It’s a kind of an amazing thing.”

Other items on the agenda included a state audit. In June, the board agreed to set aside $35,000 for Charlotte-based CliftonLarsonAllen to complete as full an audit as possible – as required by the N.C. Local Government Commission of governmental entities.

Steven Stang, an accountant with CliftonLarsonAllen, attempted yet couldn’t complete the audit. Stang contacted Sharon Edminsten with the Local Government Commission, which agreed with Stang, according to Miller, that “it would not be possible to conduct an audit.”

Miller said that the board has discharged the duties of the auditor and has received a refund except for audit work not already done.

Avery County Chair Kenny Poteat said this was “good news.” 

“We tried multiple times to satisfy this requirement,” Poteat said.