Commissioners respond to report of married mayor’s e-mails to female friend
by Jaime Gatton
Town Attorney Steve Gambill is drafting a policy that, if adopted by commissioners, would define the town’s ethical standards for elected government officials, Commissioner Miles Atkins said this week.
News of a potential code of conduct came less than a week after Mooresville Weekly exposed hundreds of intimate e-mails between Mayor Chris Montgomery, who is married, and a woman, who goes by Lisa Richards, Molly King and Grace King, that were discovered in a public records request.
A second request for all public e-mails between the mayor and the woman’s e-mail address turned up an estimated 1,400 e-mails exchanged from July 5, 2010, to Jan. 3, 2011.
Atkins said the town’s ethics policy, which he spearheaded as a private citizen in 2005, “provides guidance on ethical issues and questions of right and wrong.” But the town has been lacking a written code of conduct for elected officials, he said.
Commissioner Rhett Dusenbury said the absence of such a policy gives elected officials latitude of use. However, Dusenbury said, “We are frequently reminded that this is public equipment, our uses should be discrete in nature, and (we should use) common sense.
“We have all been informed in different training classes that N.C. Freedom of Information statutes apply to the use of all public equipment and that our conversations/uses of public equipment are open to public scrutiny,” Dusenbury said.
Commissioner Thurman Houston said he thinks that could be one reason the town has never felt the need to consider a code of conduct for elected officials: Because those leaders should simply know better – or at least, he said, they’re trained better – than to behave in such questionable ways.
Commissioner Mac Herring acknowledged that “the mayor did not violate a policy.” However, he said, “Were his actions inappropriate, unethical and unbecoming of him as mayor? Yes. Do we need to come down hard on him about it? I think public opinion will do that.”
Commissioner Chris Carney said the town board “has nothing adopted that allows for us to censure anyone for this kind of action.” But “the mayor’s recent misconduct in office” has provided Mooresville with the opportunity to develop and adopt a code of conduct, which Carney said he would “support 110 percent.”
Codes of conduct for elected officials have traditionally been hotly debated; it’s anyone’s guess how the policy may be officially received by Mooresville’s elected officials.
But one thing on which they all agreed this week is that the mayor’s frequent use of public e-mail for private matters, in the words of Commissioner Mitch Abraham, “is very much inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Said Dusenbury: “I would have to say that as a constituent, taxpayer, (and) voter, I am disappointed in the mayor. We are given the trust of the public when we are elected, we swear to uphold the U.S. and N.C. Constitutions to the best of our ability, and we are expected to represent ourselves in the community accordingly.
“I really don’t care what the mayor of Mooresville does in his/her own home, but the fact that he voluntarily ran for office to represent the people of Mooresville as their public face and lead ambassador carries with it the responsibilities of a public official … a higher standard of conduct than the average taxpayer,” Dusenbury said.
Referring to the code of ethics he pushed for the town in 2005, Atkins said he lives by the same standards he applies to anyone else and “if in any capacity I ever abuse the position or authority graciously give to me by the people of this community, then I expect to be held accountable for it.”
The mayor told the Herald Weekly’s sister paper, the Mooresville Weekly, prior to last week’s story that he wondered if the report on his e-mail use was “politically motivated.” Several town board members took issue with those allegations.
“As elected officials,” Dusenbury said, “we must hold ourselves accountable to the taxpayers and citizens of Mooresville by using public equipment solely for carrying out town business.”
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This story is an excerpt from an investigation ran by the Herald Weekly’s sister paper, Mooresville Weekly after requesting thousands of e-mails sent by Mayor Chris Montgomery under the Freedom of Information Act.
The mayor told Mooresville Weekly prior to last week’s story that he wondered if the report on his e-mail use was “politically motivated” and said: “I don’t walk away from the rumor mill – I run. At Town Hall, that’s all there is.”
To read the full story on Mayor Chris Montgomery and his e-mails visit www.mooresvilleweekly.com.