One county commissioner on Tuesday vehemently opposed an ethics complaint filed against the Board of Commissioners by a county resident.
During the open forum portion of the board meeting Monday night, Steve Noga said that an April 16 resolution passed by the board supporting the Marriage Amendment was against the Surry County Code of Ethics. He called on 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.
But Commissioner Paul Johnson challenged Noga’s standing to file the complaint Tuesday afternoon, saying that he refuses to do any of the above.
“Number one, the guy who came and spoke is not a resident of Surry County, is not a voter and is not a taxpayer,” Johnson said.
Noga responded that he isn’t registered to vote in the county because he moved here in January and hasn’t yet registered, and is not listed on the deed to his and his partner’s home, but he said he is a resident of the county.
“My domestic partner purchased the Thurmond home in his name,” he said, a claim his partner of nearly 20 years corroborated Tuesday.
“He is a resident of Surry County,” confirmed George Morales. “He lives with me in Thurmond at the home I bought. We’ve been living there since Jan. 19. He is my partner and whatever I have is his.”
Officials in the Surry County Register of Deeds office confirmed that Morales is a property owner in the county.
But Johnson said that gives him few legal rights to make his complaint.
“I answer to the taxpayers and the voters of my county, so I have no reason to do anything he asked us to do. None of that will I do,” he said. “I won’t apologize or ask the other commissioners to retract their support of the amendment.”
Johnson said he doesn’t believe the Board broke any ethics rules.
“The final judge of this will be today with the voters and with God Almighty,” he said Tuesday, a few hours before the polls closed. “That’s who I’m going to leave my case in the hands of.”
The issue appears to have little chance of dying down, according to Noga.
“Society’s come to the point that the archaic ways of the past need to change,” he said. “I’m prepared to take the issue further if nothing happens.”
Noga said he is in the process of mobilizing equal rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign, Equality North Carolina and the Lambda Legal Defense, to take up the issue.
“Making government officers take this stand is really putting a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people,” he said. “Surry County isn’t going to be the only place under a microscope, it’s just going to be the first one.”
He hinted that he also is prepared to take the issue before the courts.
“My constitutional rights were stepped upon,” said the retired soldier. “I will pursue every legal remedy I have available.”
Johnson said he isn’t likely to change his position.
“That’s where I stand today and that’s where I’m going to stand tomorrow,” he said.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1029.