County unlikely to act on attorney issues
by Kellen Short
Eggers has been a subject of scrutiny based on his personal involvement with the Watauga County Board of Elections, where his brother, Luke Eggers, serves as chairman.
An article Sunday in the Winston-Salem Journal found that several of the resolutions submitted to the board by Luke Eggers were typed on Four Eggers' law office computer. Other documents, including meet ing minutes and a letter to the state board's executive director, also bore the same "digital thumbprint," the newspaper stated.
Four Eggers said in a Monday interview that he "helped" his brother with some of the documents as a private citizen, without charge to the county.
"Depending on what the action was or what was involved, my level of involvement varied," Four Eggers said.
Asked whether he wrote the entirety of any resolution, he said: "No, I don't think so."
The perception by some that the actions created a conflict of interest led Commissioner Billy Kennedy, a Democrat, to request that the Board of Commissioners meet in closed session during their meeting Tuesday to discuss personnel.
Kennedy said Wednesday that he felt professional county employees, ranging from the county manager to finance director to planning director, need not be overtly partisan.
"They're financially gaining from the county, so they shouldn't be advocating beyond just voting personally for one party or the other," he said. "That's my basic expectation of ethics, but it's a gray area as far as how much personal life you can have.
"I'd like for the county attorney to be feeling that same responsibility, to even appearance of impropriety, and I can't say any more than that."
Kennedy said he and County Manager Deron Geouque both had contacted the UNC School of Government for advice on the situation.
"I'm just worried what it looks like for our county," Kennedy said.
He said he wished he could say more and felt the issue should be discussed.
Fellow Democrat John Welch could not be reached before presstime, and Republican Perry Yates refused to comment on the matter because it was a personnel issue.
"We all agreed (Tuesday) night when we left closed session to say, 'No comment,' and that's what I'm going to do," Yates said, adding he would be "disappointed" if any other commissioners spoke about the matter.
Vice Chairman David Blust confirmed that Eggers was "briefly" discussed, among other issues, during Tuesday's closed session. He said he had complete faith in Eggers as the county attorney.
"He's done nothing but been fantastic as the attorney for the board," Blust said. "He's never been political one way or the other, he's given good attorney advice to us, been fantastic."
Blust said he didn't believe a conflict of interest existed in this case, saying he was "OK with what (Four)'s doing right now." He suggested that the county attorney's role is inherently political.
"For years, the county attorney has always been a political appointee," Blust said.
Chairman Nathan Miller, who is also an attorney, would not comment on whether Eggers was discussed in closed session Tuesday, but said he had full confidence in him serving as county attorney.
"I have seen no problem of what they've said, from my knowledge of the law and rules of professional conduct for lawyers," Miller said. "I haven't seen where he's crossed any line."
In the past, the county has routinely hired other attorneys to represent it or one of its departments when Four Eggers or his firm self-identified a conflict of interest, Miller said.
"I know of tax foreclosures that we've had to sub out, I know DSS cases we've had to sub out to other attorneys because either Four had a conflict or Becca (Eggers-Gryder) or Stacy (Eggers) Jr. had a conflict," he said.
He added: "If there is an actual conflict that exists - and that's governed by the State Bar - if an actual conflict exists, then Mr. Eggers will inform us of the conflict and then we will seek out additional counsel."
Katherine Jean, general counsel for the N.C. State Bar, said Wednesday that grievances were not public information she could share. But she proceeded to say that nothing had been filed against Stacy Eggers IV.
"We have never received any grievance against this lawyer," she said.
State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach and Chairman Josh Howard have not returned multiple calls seeking information about whether the state board would involve itself in a dispute about potential conflicts of interest.
But General Counsel Don Wright said earlier this week he was not aware of any Watauga County issues that would be on the state board's next agenda.
Miller said it was his understanding that the UNC School of Government, which provides nonpartisan expertise to local governments across the state, had no problem with the Watauga County situation.
While acknowledging that others may feel differently, Miller said he would not be interested in hiring an alternate attorney to advise the Watauga County Board of Elections.
"We don't need anybody else at the moment," Miller said.
"Nope, don't think it's necessary," he said.