What’s in a name?

“Our orders were, ‘Don’t worry about where [Brian Medford] goes,’ even if he came in at 1 a.m. We were told, ‘Don’t worry about what’s in his locker.'”

— Capt. Don Fraser, former jail annex supervisor (now retired)

The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department’s hiring of Brian K. Medford, the sheriff’s son, four years ago appears to have violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the state’s anti-nepotism law. The Board of Commissioners, which had to approve the hiring, appears not to have been given either the applicant’s name or key information about his criminal record.

Meanwhile, Capt. Don Fraser, a former longtime department employee, alleges that Brian Medford was accorded preferential treatment while serving a sentence in the Buncombe County jail for DWI level 2. Fraser and other former department employees allege that the sheriff’s son, who is still on the payroll, continues to receive special treatment.

Various department staffers contacted in connection with Mountain Xpress’ investigation — including both Sheriff Bobby Medford and Brian Medford — failed to respond to repeated phone calls and written inquiries. Finally, in response to a Nov. 12 phone call, Sheriff Medford told Xpress: “If you have questions about the Sheriff’s Department, talk to [Attorney for the Sheriff] Julie [Keppel]. If you have questions about my personal life, talk to Bob Long.” (Long is Sheriff Medford’s personal attorney.)

County Personnel Department records show that Sheriff Medford hired Brian K. Medford as an office assistant on Jan. 18, 2000. According to the minutes of that day’s Board of Commissioners meeting, the consent agenda (a listing of routine matters that are collectively rubber-stamped by the commissioners) included this item: “Approval of employee under NCGS 153A-103(1).” Brian Medford isn’t mentioned by name, either here or in the supporting material appended to the official meeting transcript.

As a safeguard against nepotism, North Carolina General Statute 153A-103(1) stipulates that each sheriff or register of deeds “has the exclusive right to hire, discharge, and supervise the employees in his office. However the board of commissioners must approve the appointment by such an officer of a relative by blood or marriage of nearer kinship than first cousin or of a person who has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.”

A Medford by any other name…

Tom Sobol was chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at the time of the hiring. He told Xpress, “I have no memory of the mention of Brian Medford’s name.” Sobol said he wasn’t trying to pass the buck, but he believed that only County Manager Wanda Greene could answer the question.

Commissioner Patsy Keever, on the other hand, remembered that approving the Medford hiring was on the consent agenda but said such matters are routine. “It wasn’t a big deal,” she explained.

Sounding a similar theme, Commissioner David Gantt said: “We don’t micromanage the sheriff, because he doesn’t report to us. Like us, he is an elected official, and we count on him to make good decisions.” Asked about the missing name, Gantt told Xpress, “Since the reason for the law is to regulate nepotism, we should have said the name.”

Commissioner David Young, who made the motion to approve the consent agenda on that date, said he doesn’t remember either the vote or Brian Medford’s name being brought up in any context. “It should have been mentioned,” conceded Young. Commissioner Bill Stanley did not attend the meeting in question.

Asked about the failure to mention the applicant’s name, Greene told Xpress, “There was a cover letter accompanying the agenda that discussed what we were going to do.” That letter, however, doesn’t give Brian Medford’s name, either; it merely grants the sheriff permission to hire a relative. The county manager was unavailable for further comment, but her office relayed a message saying, “Including the name is not required by law.”

David Lawrence, a public-records expert at the Institute of Government, took a somewhat different view. “There isn’t any established law concerning this matter, but I would have thought that the motion needed to mention the name,” he told Xpress. “Otherwise it is unclear who the Board of Commissioners had authorized the sheriff to hire. My advice would have been to put the name in the public record.” The Institute of Government, a nonpartisan, quasi-public agency that is part of UNC-Chapel Hill, advises state and local government officials on legal, financial and management issues.

Convictions not revealed

Apparently, neither Greene nor the Sheriff’s Department informed the commissioners about Brian Medford’s two DWI convictions.

“I would certainly remember if there had been discussion of a criminal record in connection with hiring at the Sheriff’s Department,” Sobol told Xpress. And both Keever and Gantt confirmed that there’d been no mention of the applicant’s having a criminal record. Asked if the board would have investigated the case, Sobol said: “No. That would be up to the department head.”

County Attorney Joe Connolly had no comment on the matter when contacted by phone in late August and did not respond to a letter of inquiry mailed Aug. 27. Contacted again via phone and fax on Nov. 3, Connolly replied that the law “does not specifically state that the individual being hired must be named in the approval. But clearly, the better practice would have been to have named the individual and make it part of the official minutes. I take responsibility for this oversight.”

Concerning Brian Medford’s criminal record, Connolly said, “I could not find a definitive answer regarding this issue, but I did check with other lawyers, who share the same opinion: that driving while impaired is not a crime involving moral turpitude.”

According to state records, Brian Medford was convicted of DWI level 5 on June 2, 1994, and of DWI level 2 (a class B misdemeanor) on Nov. 11, 1995. He was sentenced to a seven-day term in the work-release program on Nov. 28, 1995; Capt. Don Fraser, now retired from the Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that Medford had served time in the county jail system.

Don’t worry

Capt. Fraser held various positions within the department between 1985 and 2004, including annex supervisor at the county work-release facility while Brian Medford was an inmate. “Our orders were, ‘Don’t worry about where he goes,’ even if he came in at 1 a.m.,” Fraser told Xpress. Furthermore, “We were told, ‘Don’t worry about what’s in his locker.'”

According to Deputy Patrocinio Valdez, who works in the jail, “Work-release prisoners are only allowed time to get to their work shift and back to the [jail] annex. They are only permitted to have what they purchase here. When they come in, all they bring is just the clothes on their backs.”

And on Aug. 27, Capt. Glen Matayabas, the current jail administrator, told Xpress: “Jail records are public records. I can e-mail or fax them to you if you tell me what records you want.” But after being given Brian Medford’s name and the approximate dates of his incarceration in an Aug. 30 e-mail, Matayabas failed to respond to the request.

Contacted again by phone on Oct. 22, Matayabas told Xpress that he’d turned the question over to Attorney for the Sheriff Julie Keppel in early September. In an Oct. 12 phone conversation, however, Keppel denied having received information about any Xpress inquiries during the previous two months.

During the same conversation, Keppel told this reporter, “I wouldn’t trust that source if I were you” — even though no sources had been named or even mentioned in any communication with the department. When asked what source she was referring to, Keppel responded, “Brenda Fraser.”

Deputy Brenda Fraser, formerly the victims’ advocate for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department in domestic-violence cases, now works for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department. In 2002 and 2003, she had refused to speak to Xpress concerning an alleged crime involving Jeffrey Medford, the sheriff’s other son; Fraser was involved in the case as the victim’s advocate (See “Buncombe Justice on Trial,” June 18, 2003 Xpress).

Contacted again in the course of this investigation, Brenda Fraser (who is Don Fraser’s wife) told Xpress, “I was under orders from the sheriff not to talk to the press.”

Brian Medford, meanwhile, still works for the Sheriff’s Department, earning $26,500 per year. At various times, his responsibilities have included overseeing the metal detector at the courthouse and escorting prisoners between the jail and courtrooms. According to Keppel, who has recently been named personnel director at the Sheriff’s Department in addition to her duties as the department’s attorney, the sheriff’s son currently answers phones at the front desk in the sheriff’s office.

According to a staffer in the Raleigh office of the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, Brian Medford has yet to reclaim his driver’s license (which was revoked in November 1995 in connection with his second DWI conviction) because he never completed his substance-abuse-assessment requirement. Under North Carolina law, a person whose license is revoked in connection with a DWI conviction “must have a substance-abuse assessment and, depending on the results of the assessment, must complete either an alcohol- and drug-education traffic school or a substance-abuse treatment program.”

Both the Frasers and other former deputies (who requested anonymity) allege that Brian Medford is routinely chauffeured on personal errands by department employees using county vehicles. Brenda Fraser told Xpress that she had repeatedly performed this task herself, under orders from the sheriff.

Xpress has repeatedly attempted to contact both Medfords concerning these charges. Letters to the sheriff dated Aug. 31, Sept. 6 and Oct. 18 went unanswered, as did letters to Brian Medford dated Aug. 31 and Oct. 18. Keppel, the department’s attorney, told this reporter on Nov. 4 that if no reply had been received to those letters, “it should be interpreted as refusal.”

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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