LETTERS / Why is the Boone Town Council Meeting in Closed Session?

Published Monday, January 18, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Dear Editor;

A question of ethics!

Why is the Boone town council meeting, in closed session, on January 21, 2016, to discuss “the disclosure of public records”?  According to meeting agenda:

“Pursuant to N.C.G.S.  §143-318.11(a)(3),  to  consult  with  the  Town  Attorney in  order  to  preserve  the  attorney-client  privilege  between  the  attorney  and the  Town  Council  and  obtain  legal  advice  and/or  consider  and  give instructions to the attorney  concerning  the disclosure  of public  records.”

New River Advocates, Inc. has been making public record requests with the town of Boone, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Ashe county, Watauga county, the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ known previously as DENR) regarding Boone’s proposed raw water intake on the South Fork of the New River.

It has taken an unusual amount of time to gain access to records.  But, not all of the organizations have been as difficult to obtain information from as the town of Boone.  The first request that ran amuck was a request made in 2014 for a 2004 engineering report, a 10-Year old engineering report.  New River Advocates requested mediation; Boone refused.  Finally, after a year, we were given access to correspondence.  Review of that correspondence has led to requests of missing attachments, missing dialogue and challenges to redactions.  We periodically meet with Boone to prioritize our requests and drop requests, a difficult decision, in an attempt to prevent bottlenecking of requests.

We are still unable to gain access to un-redacted closed session.  Our first request covering 2002-2014 is over 15 months old and our updated request to include 2015 is three months old.  Closed session minutes should be periodically reviewed, released and made available to the public.  However, with the exception of a courtesy copy of minutes released to Pam Williamson, no closed session minutes have been released.  We have a request for a digital copy of the final engineering plans which is two months old.  When we follow up, we are assured they are working on it.

We have been accused of “trickery” and blamed for delays and cost overruns by the town of Boone.  Instead we have exposed the truth.   While members of our group have been individually attempting to expose the network of behind the scenes’ maneuvering and misinformation since the project was announced, the enormity of the network, gave rise to the formation of New River Advocates, Inc.

After almost 18 months, New River Advocates has started to unravel the web of misinformation and misrepresentation of facts that has been spun for the project known among the governmental agencies as the “Boone USDA Raw Water Project”, but known by us, more appropriately, as Boone-Doggle.  Much of the misinformation and misrepresentation has been documented in previous analyses of the project and much continues to be uncovered.

While New River Advocates would like to believe the Boone town council closed session is a meeting to discuss the release of the outstanding requests for closed session meeting minutes, past history would suggest it is only a meeting to find ways to justify the continued stonewalling of the records request and possibly add additional hoops to jump through.

With the release of the email dialogue between attorney, Allen Moseley, who claims to represent Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer (not to be confused with the Coopers who have filed two lawsuits against Boone), in acquiring a floodplain permit from Ashe county and Allison Meade, Boone’s legal counsel, New River Advocates suspect this closed session meeting is more about protecting the town from the release of more damaging facts about the “Boone-Doggle” than making sure the public records are made available in accordance with the NC Public Record Laws .

For example, in the 2009 deed, Watauga County Register of Deed (ROD) Book 1425 Page 405, Boone agreed to build a subdivision road for Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer.  However, part of that road was to be constructed through Ashe County.  Boone made this road part of the raw water project using it as an access road to the pumping station.  The deed not only called for the construction of the subdivision road; it must be built regardless of whether the land is used for an intake.  And, construction of the road must commence by 2/17/2016.  The deed also calls for the installation of underground utilities for the future subdivision. Additionally, the deed provided an easement through both Ashe and Watauga county upon which the road was to be constructed.

The easement through Ashe county was illegal as it had not been approved by the Ashe county commissioners in accordance with N.C.G.S. §153A-15.  As you may be aware, Ashe county officials have made it clear they will not approve an easement through Ashe county.  And, Boone’s manager told the USDA that neither the acquisition nor condemnation of property through Ashe County was part of the raw water project.  Despite this claim, Boone has filed permit applications, with plans, documenting an easement through Ashe County.

Boone was brazen enough to apply for a floodplain permit in Ashe County.  Ashe county officials were advised, by their legal counsel, to require Boone to amend the 2009 deed to remove the easement through Ashe County.  Boone amended the deed on 7/24/2015, Watauga County ROD Book 1815 Page 415 and Page 422.  Ashe county officials, in accordance with their ordinance, required the Coopers to apply for the floodplain permit.  New River Advocates requested public records from Ashe County.  We found a letter from Allen Moseley, dated 6/26/2015, to Adam Stumb, Ashe county planning and inspections director, claiming to represent Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer:

“I am the personal attorney of Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer.  I write in reference to a letter dated June 8, 2015 to W.K. Dickson concerning the floodplain development permit for the Cooper Farm Access Road.  This is to confirm that my clients, Larry Cooper, Randy Cooper and Amy Cooper Greer, are the applicants with respect to this permit.  Further, they specifically authorize, and request that you correspond with W.K. Dickson, as their agent, with respect to the permit application.  Please call me if you have any questions or concerns.  Sincerely, Allen C. Moseley”

As you may be aware, W.K. Dickson acts as the town of Boone’s agent and is the raw water project engineer.  The plans submitted to Ashe County represent the subdivision road called the “Cooper Access Road” running from Cranberry Springs Road, just above the New River Bridge, through Ashe County and then joining the subdivision road in Watauga County leading to the proposed subdivision and to the proposed pumping station.  Boone submitted a subdivision plan, which is recorded according to Joe Furman, to Watauga county planning and inspections requesting a waiver from the county’s subdivision ordinance.  This plat shows the same road with 10-acre lots, the lot sizes being the reason the waiver was granted.  (An email dialogue discloses this is not what the Coopers wanted and whether they have been apprised is unknown.)

New River Advocates made a request to Boone for payments made to Allen Moseley’s law firm.   We found that Boone paid Randy Cooper’s attorney, Allen Moseley, for his representation in the floodplain matter.  The invoice, dated 11/11/2015, is addressed to “Randy Cooper, c/o of Attorney Allison Meade, PO Box 292, Boone, NC. 28607.”

The invoice has three items:

10/7/2015 – “Telephone Conference With Client – Randy Cooper Regarding Flood Permit”

10/12/2015 – “Correspondence For Client to Randy Cooper”

10/14/2015 – “Correspondence To Client”

The first item suggests that Randy Cooper is the client while second item suggests that Mr. Moseley is corresponding to Randy Cooper for the client; who is the client, the town of Boone?

Boone also gave New River Advocates an invoice dated 7/15/2015 which included eight items, two of which bring into question if Amy Greer is a client:

6/10/2015 – “Telephone Conference With Client – Randy Cooper”

6/10/2015 – “Telephone Conference For Client With Amy Greer”

The first item again suggests Randy Cooper is the client while Item two suggest Amy Greer is not the client.  And, none of the invoices reference Larry Cooper by name which brings into question if Larry Cooper is a client and whether he is ever notified.

[As an interesting side note, the same invoice contained a line item dated 6/12/2015 showing Attorney Allen Moseley reviewed “the Ashe County Lawsuit Brought By Ronald Cooper ET AL”.  Interestingly, Boone paid for the review.]

The email records show that W.K. Dickson received the permit for signature on 10/7/2015 and sent it to Allison Meade and Rick Miller on 10/7/2015 at 9:44AM stating,

“Attached is the Ashe County Floodplain development permit.  I would prefer that one of the Cooper’s sign this.”

Allison Meade wrote back on 10/7/2015 at 10:10AM,

“Curious as to your thought- Why not sign yourself as agent for the Coopers?”

The records do not show a response from W.K. Dickson.  However, on 10/7/2015, at 11:57AM, Allison Meade sends an email to Allen Moseley stating,

“Ashe County has finally issued the floodplain permit.  Could you please have Randy sign on behalf of the Coopers as soon as possible, and either mail it to Adam Stumb, at …, or to me…”

We do not have a record of any dialogue between Allison Meade and Allen Moseley until 10/14/2015 at 8:29AM when Mr. Moseley wrote,

“Allison, I wanted to confirm that Ashe Co. received the signed permit from Randy.  He sent it to them the day after I forwarded it to him.”

On 10/14/2015 at 8:54 AM, W.K. Dickson sent an email to Adam Stumb, Ashe county planning and inspections,

“I just wanted to confirm that you received the permit executed by the Coopers.  You should have received it by now.”

Adam Stumb replied on 10/14/2015 at 9:40AM,

“Did all 3 of Coopers get the permit to sign?  I didn’t ask you to but we’ll need all 3 to sign it.  Taking into consideration the family dynamics and that all 3 have ownership of the property, if need be I can send it to the other two, they can sign separate copies.  Just let me know.”

On 10/14/2015, at 9:49AM, W.K. Dickson sent an email to Allison Meade, Boone’s attorney,

“Allison, Do you know if all three owners signed the permit?”

Allison Meade replied on 10/14/2015 at 10:18AM,

“They did not, and I don’t think his request is authorized under law, but it may be easiest to get the other two to sign.  I will handle this unless I get back to you.  Allison M. Meade…”

At 10:25 AM on 10/14/2015, Allison Meade, Boone’s attorney sends an email to Allen Moseley, who claims to represent all 3 Coopers,

 “Allen, So now Ashe Cty planning is requesting that all 3 of the Coopers sign the permit.  Could you forward this to Amy and Larry, and have them print, sign and send directly to Adam Stumb at…Alternately, I am happy to send them copies by mail with a pre-addressed envelope to Ashe Cty, if you wish to share their addresses.  Thanks, Allison M. Meade.”

On 10/14/2015, at 10:28AM, Allen Moseley, who claims to represent all 3 of the Coopers, writes,

“That is not good.  I will let Randy know.  As you may have surmised already, we have one of the three who does not want to cooperate, which has really slowed things down.  I will ask Randy to handle this.”

By 4:21PM on 10/14/2015, W.K. Dickson, Allison Meade and Allen Moseley had resolved the problem, they got Ashe county to cede and let W.K. Dickson sign the permit as authorized agent for the Coopers, even for the one “who does not want to cooperate”.  

New River Advocates asks these questions, who are the client(s), are all of the clients being fairly represented and has anyone been misrepresented?

NC open meeting law, N.C.G.S. §143-318.11(3) which allows closed session meetings “to consult with an attorney employed or retained by the public body in order to preserve attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the public body”.  The law does not allow discussion of general policy matters:  “General policy matters may not be discussed in closed session…”

And, attorney-client privilege confers the privilege to the client and not the attorney.

New River Advocates, Inc.

Deborah Greene

 

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