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Mayor knew of candidate's convictions: Newly hired Haw River manager resigned Monday
[November 30, 2006]

Mayor knew of candidate's convictions: Newly hired Haw River manager resigned Monday

(Times-News (Burlington, NC) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 30--Haw River Mayor Buddy Boggs formally asked Brian L. Johnson to be town manager after receiving information that Johnson had been convicted of crimes more than 10 years ago, a town official says.

Johnson was scheduled to take over as the town's chief executive on Dec. 18, but resigned Monday after an investigation into his background raised concerns, Boggs has said.

Boggs refused to say what the background check revealed, but said the council would have withdrawn the job offer if Johnson had not resigned. Johnson confirmed Wednesday that he has misdemeanor convictions, but said he and the council didn't discuss his record until the council called him Monday night, about the time the council met in closed session to discuss the job offer.

Johnson said he didn't think the old convictions were an issue and didn't hide them from the council.

"It never came up specifically. This was not an issue about nondisclosure." Johnson filled out a town employment application in August, said Misty Hagood, the town's clerk and interim manager.

Applicants must indicate whether they have been convicted of a crime other than traffic violations with fines of $30 or less, or offenses committed when younger than 16.

Johnson said Wednesday that he couldn't remember whether he filled out an application.

Hagood cited state personnel laws and refused to say how Johnson answered the application question about his criminal record.

She gave this timeline of Johnson's hiring: Boggs offered the job on Nov. 8 after the council interviewed Johnson. "It was a conditional job offer based on a background check and pre-employment drug screen," Hagood said.

Hagood put the offer in writing on Nov. 9.

Police Chief Tim Felts started the nationwide background check on Johnson on Nov. 9. Boggs received the background results on Nov. 10.

Boggs signed the offer and presented it to Johnson when the two met the weekend of Nov. 11-12.

Johnson said he considered two other offers and accepted the Haw River job on Nov. 15. "We hadn't ever done a contract. I was never an official employee of the town." The council normally requires a background check and drug screening before offering a job to management-level candidates, but didn't in Johnson's case, Hagood said. "From now own, it will be run by the town attorney before the offer is made." FOUR ATTEMPTS TO reach Boggs by phone Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Town Attorney Mitchell Mc-Entire was out of town on Wednesday, his law office said. Councilman Steven Mullis refused to comment on Johnson's application or resignation. A call to Councilman Ricky Honeycutt was not returned. Councilman Jeff Fogleman did not attend Monday's council meeting.

Johnson, a Hendersonville native, said he moved to Lincoln, Neb., to attend college in the 1990s. He was arrested on a felonious theft charge in 1995, Lincoln Police Department records show. The charge was reduced to misdemeanor altering or defacing a certificate of title in 1996. Johnson was convicted of the lesser charge and fined $200.

Johnson, 35, was charged with misdemeanor possession of stolen property once in 1993 and twice in 1995. The 1993 charge was dismissed in favor of a pretrial diversion program. Johnson was convicted of the 1995 possession charges after they were reduced to disturbing the peace.

He also was convicted of failing to appear in court in 1995.

Johnson said he is considering trying to get a dismissed charge permanently removed from his record because evidence has surfaced proving his innocence.

THE PENDING LEGAL issues prompted the council's concern, Johnson said; that, and other job possibilities, caused him and the council to part ways.

"Knowing that I had other offers, we decided that it was best for me to pursue some other offers I had." Despite the outcome, Johnson said the council acted professionally and treated him fairly.

Johnson has apparently left his legal troubles behind, graduating from college and winning two Bronze Stars while serving as an officer with the U.S. Army in Iraq, according to military records he provided to the Times-News.

Johnson served in the U.S. Navy from 1995 to 1998, rising to the rank of petty officer second class, the naval equivalent of a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He later graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia and was commissioned as an Army first lieutenant.

"The U.S. Navy deemed me worthy of a top-secret security clearance," Johnson said.

Johnson is a graduate student at the University of Georgia School of International Policy and Public Affairs. He said he will graduate Dec. 15 with a master's degree in public administration.

He was initially hesitant to talk about the situation and is worried that the old charges will keep him from getting a similar job in North Carolina.

"To be honest with you, it was a real big learning curve."

Copyright (c) 2006, Times-News, Burlington, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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