Buncombe Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger takes the heat for snow days

Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger. File photo
Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger. File photo

It’s been a hard few months for Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger.

His office remains under intense scrutiny following the news that Reisinger, an elected official, closed the Deeds office in February during inclement weather and a governor-declared State of Emergency. No other Buncombe County department closed at the time. Buncombe officials later responded to the apparent inequity by granting other county employees an additional 13 hours vacation leave, roughly equivalent to $480,000 in paid salaries.

That’s the estimate, but county staff say it’s not exactly real money and might not cost taxpayers a dime.

During the Aug. 5 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, county residents got a chance to comment on the situation. Their displeasure was clear, leading commissioners to review the issue.

“It is not right,” said Peggy Bennett on Aug. 5. “It’s not right to expect the taxpayer to pay the [nearly] $500,000. It is up to you all to do what’s right. Set a good example for Mr. Reisinger. Maybe he’ll learn, maybe he won’t. But it’s not right for us as taxpayers to pay that money. We expect you all to take care of it.”

“I read where this year’s budget will make [it up to] the employees of the county … who did not get a free taxpayer-funded playdate,” said Eddie Harwood. “Since Mr. Reisinger is a bonded official, I assume that the more than $500,000 this costs the taxpayers will be recovered, which is the purpose of the bond on an official in case of misconduct or other actions that cause harm to taxpayers.”

After hearing from Bennett and Harwood, Board Chairman David Gantt directed county attorney Robert Deutsch to look into it. On Aug. 19, Deutsch outlined the details and, some of which addressed Harwood’s suggestion.

North Carolina General Statutes require many public officials to carry fidelity bonds, including “any County officer, employee or agent who handles or has in his custody more than one hundred dollars ($100) of county money at any one time,” Deutsch explained in his report. The bonds function as a type of surety or insurance for performance. For the Register of Deeds, the bond is to assure faithful performance of the duties of the office, which is outlined in the N.C. General Statutes, and financial integrity, said Deutsch.

The bond for Reisinger was set at $50,000, the largest amount, by law, that a performance bond for the Register of Deeds can carry.

“Insurance companies write these bonds,” Deutsch later told Xpress. “If I, for example, am a general contractor, I might pull a fidelity bond from the insurance company for the owner of the building I’m working on, so if I don’t perform, the fidelity bond would stand for it.”

Like any insurance company, Deutsch continued, the bond agents “will fight hard not to pay. They interpret these things very technically.”

Deutsch also said that the only people who could call the bond are those who suffered “direct financial damage” from the deeds office closing. “So if I was trying to close my deed and I couldn’t, and it cost me financially, that would be the only time I could assert the bond. I did not think the [office] closing caused anyone financial damage, or violated the duties of the Register of Deeds as outlined in in North Carolina General Statutes.”

As for the cost to taxpayers, that’s uncertain. While the potential cost for paying extra vacation time is about $480,000, Deutsch said that’s a “maximum,” and the final, actual number could vary — a lot.

“It could be zero,” he said.

While vacation time is a liability cost for county government, the cost is theoretical, depending on a variety of circumstances. All Buncombe employees were granted an additional 13 hours vacation time by commissioners, but that compensation will only end up costing taxpayers extra money under specific conditions, Deutsch said.

“Say a department is minimally staffed, and someone takes that 13 hours of vacation, and that department has to bring someone else in to cover [thus paying both the vacation time and the other employee],” said Deutsch. “That’s the only time it would cost taxpayers additional money. Hopefully our departments would be more than minimally staffed anyway.”

Regardless, he said, the county won’t know the exact cost of Reisinger’s decision until June 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year.

No matter what the final tally, the issue has generated confusion and anger from the public.

When contacted by the Xpress, Reisinger said that his office was one of several that closed on Feb. 12 and 13 during a state of emergency. According to him, while Buncombe County traditionally keeps offices technically open, even if not operational, there’s no set policy on whether or not an office can be closed during inclement weather or other emergency conditions.

“Based on the combination of written and unwritten policies,” said Reisinger, “it is reasonable for there to be ambiguity and questions on this issue. I did choose to close my office during the state of emergency because I had no staff who felt safe traveling during the snowstorm. [Deed] employees elected to take vacation time or leave without pay on Feb. 12 and 13.”

County Manager Wanda Greene, however, told Xpress: “Our policy is that we do not close, and no other offices have closed in the 20 years I have been with Buncombe County.”

“I have personally expressed to Greene,” said Reisinger, “and every commissioner my regret for any confusion this matter has caused [her], the commissioners and the public.”

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7 thoughts on “Buncombe Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger takes the heat for snow days

  1. I know Mountain Xpress is really an arts and entertainment publication, but when their reporters attempt to report the news, they should still try to get their facts straight. In this article, Cameron Huntley flatly states “No other Buncombe County department closed at the time.” Huntley goes on to quote County Manager Wanda Greene: “Our policy is that we do not close, and no other offices have closed in the 20 years I have been with Buncombe County.”

    Interestingly, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Buncombe County Library branches were closing early or were already closed on February 12, 2014, the date of the State of Emergency declared by Governor McCrory that continued into February 13, the dates that Register of Deeds office was closed. See for yourself at http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2014/02/12/wnc-business-closings/5416753/.

    It should also be noted that the Peggy Bennett quoted in the article is the mother of Pat Cothern, Republican candidate for Buncombe County Register of Deeds in the 2012 general election, who Reisinger soundly defeated. Sour grapes, perhaps?

    • Cameron Huntley

      Hello Mr. Mulkey, and thank you for your comment.

      The situation has certainly caused a lot of confusion on all sides. As you can see in the article, Mr. Reisinger says something similar in that his was one of several offices to close.

      However, both County Manager Greene and Chairman David Gantt state unequivocally that departments never close (Chairman Gantt is quoted here: http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2014/07/09/snow-results-extra-vacation-county-workers/12434189/ ).

      It’s really a technicality; as you mentioned, Buncombe County Library Branches were closing. However, Buncombe County Libraries are not, technically, a county “department.” They are part of the Library Recreation, and Culture Department, headquartered in Pack Memorial Library. Had THAT office been closed, then the department would have been closed.

      Obviously looking from the outside-in that could be confusing, and I daresay Mr. Reisinger may have had that in mind (Chairman Gantt in the article above also floats the possibility that Mr. Reisinger may have been confused by the courthouse closing). It’s possible some language may need to be changed on the county’s part, but no matter where I look and who I talk to in County Admin, I’m getting the same message, that the departments do not close. They can suspend most of their services, they can operate on a bare minimum staff, but they are still, however technically, open for business,. This appears to be what the Library, Recreation and Culture Department did on the days in question.

      Thank you for your comment,

      Cameron Huntley

      • Thanks for your response, Cameron. Looks to me like we’re playing with semantics here. County libraries were closed on the dates in question, right? Therefore Wanda Greene’s statement that “no other offices have closed in the 20 years I have been with Buncombe County” is patently false.

        Apparently the county has only one written policy that deals with inclement weather, and it does not say departments “never” close. It says that “If employees are unable to report to work, or feel it necessary to leave work due to severely inclement weather, road conditions, and natural or manmade disasters they may elect to take the day off as a day of vacation, compensatory time, or as a day off without pay.” This is exactly what Reisinger’s employees did.

        Another point: Why does our county manager seem so determined to keep offices open, even during inclement weather? At what point does our county employees’ safety become more important than non-essential services staying “open”? Many surrounding counties have inclement weather policies that are more detailed and that allow for non-essential personnel or offices to be closed in such situations.

        From my perspective the feigned outrage being voiced is merely another partisan ploy by a small minority of Buncombe County citizens, including Peggy Bennett, Republican Register of Deeds candidate Pat Cothran’s mother, in an attempt to sully Reisinger’s reputation since they were unable to beat him at the polls. Finally, I have to wonder: Is County Manager Wanda Greene more comfortable working with the “old boy” network (that’s fading fast from the scene) than our new generation of public servants?

        • janet

          “Semantics, or carelessness, poor training, or childish frivolity, Mr. Reisinger cost us almost half a million dollars. The county’s reaction was wrong and Drew was wrong. He should go, voluntarily or otherwise, as he has hurt taxpayers. And we haven’t even gotten to his questionable expense reports yet.

          • Reisinger cost the taxpayers of Buncombe County nothing, zero, nada since his Register of Deeds employees all took personal leave on the days in question. His detractors are trying to accomplish what they couldn’t at the polls, and they will be unsuccessful in this effort as well.

  2. Jim Reeves

    Speaking of “sullying” someones reputation, Peggy Bennett has ALWAYS been an advocate for the citizens and taxpayers of Buncombe County (and a Democrat!) and has consistently opposed government over-reach, abuse, and our “servants” ignoring the wishes of their constituencies. Her daughter Pat had vast experience in the fields relating to the Register of Deeds office, while her opponent with NO experience was merely a political crony of the new Democrat “machine” being rewarded for his service to the Democratic party’s candidates. Who’s the REAL PARTISAN Bruce?

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