Local News

State investigates allegations of corruption in Harnett utilities

Posted October 21, 2011 6:27 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2011 7:16 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Attorney General's Office has been called in to review allegations of corruption in Harnett County's Department of Public Utilities.

The allegations were made in January by a fired county employee and have split the Harnett County Board of Commissioners and led to tension and rampant rumors among area residents.

"We have nothing to hide, and we want to get all the facts out to the public," said Tim McNeill, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Randy Rogers said he was fired as a right-of-way agent for the utilities department because he tried to blow the whistle on corruption in the department, including rigged bids on water and sewer projects and shortcuts on easement purchases and environmental permits.

"Sometimes a man or a woman, in his (or her) life, has to take a stand. This was one of those times I had to take a stand," Rogers said Friday. "It's placed a hardship on my family and myself."

Critics say Rogers was fired for doing a poor job, but he said he collected documents and made secret audio recordings to support his allegations. Although he was guarded with the information he provided to WRAL News, on the advice of his attorney, he said county officials removed a flash drive that contained the recordings from his jacket pocket and have refused to return it.

Steve Ward, director of the utilities department, denies any wrongdoing, but he declined to rebut specifics of Rogers' allegations.

Rogers' story won the support of Commissioner Gary House, but House clashed with other commissioners who believed only that Rogers was bitter over his termination.

"This needs to be brought out to the public," House said. "It's been very divisive. (The board) tried to sweep it under the rug."

The board hired Poyner & Spruill, one of North Carolina's largest and most politically connected law firms, to look into Rogers' allegations. The law firm's report is being reviewed by the Attorney General's Office, and the county won't release details of the report.

"We will release all information at some point in time that has been accumulated," McNeill said. "We're relying on the attorney general and his office on when that can be done."

Commissioners also have asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to review the law firm's report, but federal prosecutors haven't yet agreed to do so.

Rogers said he is weighing whether to sue the county over his firing.