DOBSON — A county resident has filed an ethics complaint against the Surry County Board of Commissioners and County Manager Dennis Thompson, charging that their April 16 resolution supporting the Marriage Amendment on today’s ballot is in violation of the Surry County Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for employees and elected officials.
Steve Noga, U.S. Army Retired, said that in unanimously passing the resolution the board “went beyond (its) official elected capacity and publicly adopted your personal religious views to sway voters and influence the outcome of the ballot initiative.”
“That is against the law,” he said when he addressed the board during open forum at the start of the meeting. “The office of Surry County commissioners is not a political or religious organization who can freely endorse one political platform or ballot initiative.”
Noga is calling for the board to publicly recant the resolution, publicly apologize, reimburse the taxpayers for the labor, supplies and utilities used during what he called the “promotion of your personal political agendas” and pass a resolution prohibiting future boards from endorsing any election or ballot initiative.
The Surry County Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct states in part:
“I will avoid inappropriate participation in partisan political activities,” and refers commissioners to Article V. Section 3 of the Surry County Personnel ordinance.
That ordinance mandates, in part, that “no employee shall 1) engage in any political or partisan activity while on duty; 2) use official authority of influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or nomination for office.”
While the personnel ordinance specifically exempts county commissioners and county managers from the personnel ordinance, the Code of Ethics refers them to the same ordinance.
In an impassioned plea, the retired soldier said the board had overstepped its bounds with the resolution.
“(Commissioners’) official endorsement of the Marriage Amendment is definitively political and beyond the scope of your office,” he said. “That was unethical and against the law.
“Your religious views do not reflect the views of every Surry County citizen,” he said. “You abuse your position and authority. Your actions are reprehensible.”
Noga said he, too, is a Christian.
“My Christ loves me for who I am. My Christ has blessed me with a wonderful partner for more than 18 years,” he said. “My Christ blesses this union.
“For one religious group to impose laws against the religious beliefs of another is wrong and violates my Constitutional rights to religious freedom.”
After Noga addressed the board, county resident Doria Faye said she agrees with him.
“There is a growing number of people in this county who find it offensive that you took the position you took,” she said.
Board members declined to comment on the issue pending consultation with the county attorney.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.