A second elected official has been implicated in the ongoing federal investigation of Buncombe County corruption. Speaking at a Dec. 17 meeting of the county Board of Commissioners, attorney Ron Payne said that former Commissioner Bill Stanley had been accused by former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton of improperly accepting unspecified “things of value” from former county contractor Joseph Wiseman Jr.
Payne said Creighton made the allegations in a sworn deposition he provided before reporting in October for an 18-month sentence at USP McCreary, a federal prison in Kentucky. While Creighton and Wiseman, along with former Buncombe officials Wanda Greene, Michael Greene and Mandy Stone, were convicted of federal corruption charges on Aug. 28, former Commissioner Ellen Frost is the only other elected official yet formally accused of participating in improper county government activity.
In response to Creighton’s testimony, the commissioners unanimously voted to remove Stanley’s name from the William H. Stanley Center, host to the county’s Family Justice Center and other government offices. The building will henceforth be known by its previous name of 35 Woodfin St.
According to a letter provided to the county by Stanley’s family dated Oct. 14, he “is unable to admit or deny allegations made against him concerning his tenure on the Board of Commissioners.” The letter continues that the family “respects the work and investigation of Commissioner Stanley and others for past acts” and accepts the county’s decision to strip his name from 35 Woodfin.
As of press time, no federal criminal charges had been filed against Stanley in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. The board also did not announce any civil proceedings against the former commissioner; at the same meeting, Payne said that the county had filed a lawsuit against Frost and Greene to recover taxpayer funds that were allegedly misdirected to out-of-county equestrian activities.
During his update to the board, Payne provided a letter detailing the results of interviews he and his colleague Philip Anderson had conducted with current and former commissioners regarding their connections to Wiseman. He said that no one interviewed had recalled meeting Wiseman or seeing him at county-related events.
However, Payne added that some of the commissioners may have unknowingly benefited from Wiseman’s largesse. After some meals at conferences attended by county representatives, he said, “Ms. Greene or Mr. Creighton would call Mr. Wiseman and have him phone in his credit card number to pay for meals when Ms. Greene was afraid that it would be so much that the public would get upset.”
Payne said that four former commissioners had not made themselves available for interviews about any dealings with Wiseman: Frost, Stanley, David Young and Nathan Ramsey. Contacted by Xpress after the meeting, Young wrote that he did not meet with Payne “because I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing by me or any other commissioners. I have not served as commissioner for 11 years.”
In an email message to Xpress, Ramsey wrote that he had spoken with Payne by phone about a month ago. During that conversation, Ramsey said, he shared that he “had no awareness of Joe Wiseman until I read news reports about him” in connection with the Buncombe corruption scandal.
“Mr. Payne has my mobile phone/email and he can contact me any time and can ask any questions to me he desires,” Ramsey added. “If I was aware that anyone connected with Buncombe County government acted improperly, I would have already contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and shared that information with them.”
Payne noted that the county is currently seeking a court order to compel financial records from Wiseman’s employer before 2014, CDM Smith, to gain further details about his alleged gifts to Buncombe officials. Once those records are received, Payne said, Wiseman’s deposition will be taken to guide further investigation.
In other news
The board unanimously approved nearly $1.18 million in additional spending for the East Asheville Library, bringing the project’s total cost to roughly $6.98 million. The library had previously received an additional $1.3 million in November 2018 after community members called for an expanded facility and different site.
The new allocation contains over $223,000 for features dubbed “optional alternates,” including nearly $75,000 for an exterior courtyard and over $36,000 for wood trim. After Commissioner Joe Belcher asked if all those features were truly necessary, Library Director Jim Blanton responded with a passionate defense of the building’s design.
“Our library buildings need to be inspiring. They need to be a place where people come and experience joy and delight and are inspired to learn and be a part of this space,” Blanton said. “You have to want to go back to that building over and over again. And you really have to pay attention to aesthetics because of that — otherwise, we would just build a gymnasium or something.”
Commissioners also approved $372,000 for new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant voting machines and agreed to donate a $240,000 federal grant for greenway design to the city of Asheville. The county will still provide $20,000 of its own funds as part of a required $60,000 local match for the grant, with the remainder provided by the city and nonprofit greenway advocacy organization Connect Buncombe.