After corruption allegation, former commissioner's name stripped from Buncombe County building
ASHEVILLE - The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to strip the William H. Stanley Center of its name after learning its namesake, former Commissioner Bill Stanley, has been accused of corruption.
Ron Payne, the county's outside attorney, told the board in a legal update on Dec. 17 that former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton gave a sworn deposition alleging Stanley accepted "things of value" from Joe Wiseman.
Payne said he consulted with an attorney representing Stanley's family, who said the former commissioner "is unable to admit or deny allegations made against him."
"Mr. Stanley does lack the capacity to make informed decisions," due to his medical condition, attorney Gene Ellison told the Citizen Times.
Stanley's wife, Jane Stanley, who has power-of-attorney for the former commissioner, said in a letter to the board that Stanley's family "respects the work and investigation of Commissioner Stanley and others for past acts."
"Any decision by the board in reference to the removal of William H. Stanley's name from the county health center is accepted and respected by the family, who understand that it is in the best interest of Buncombe County," reads the letter, which was provided to the Citizen Times.
The building, which houses the Family Justice Center, will return to its original name, 35 Woodfin Street.
“This is a hard day, but this needs to to be done," Commissioner Mike Fryar said. "This crew has gone through a lot.”
The county Board of Commissioners renamed the building the William H. Stanley Center in 2012 in appreciation for, as the new plaque on the building read, the 24 years Stanley spent on the board dedicated "to the growth and development of Buncombe County and Western North Carolina."
At the time of the building's naming — a surprise presented by Stanley's fellow commissioners — he called the honor "the greatest thing that's ever happened to me in my life."
Wiseman kickback scheme ran deep
Wiseman, a longtime engineering contractor for the county, was caught participating in a fraudulent kickback scheme in which he bribed county officials with vacations, spa treatments, sporting events and other gifts in exchange for engineering contracts.
He is one of six individuals who have faced federal charges since authorities opened an investigation into Buncombe government in 2017. Five of those charged have pleaded guilty to corruption and are serving time in prison.
Former Commissioner Ellen Frost has pleaded not guilty to her charges and requested a jury trial. Her case is set to return to court in February.
More on the Buncombe County investigation:
- Brownie Newman says he requested the investigation into Wanda Greene. Tim Flora disputes the claim.
- Buncombe corruption: Wiseman reports to low-security prison in North Carolina
- Buncombe County files equestrian center lawsuit against Ellen Frost, Wanda Green
- 'Horrific abuse of office': Wanda Greene gets 7 years for wide-ranging corruption
Wiseman's records obtained by county
Payne said he requested a court order to get records from Wiseman's former employer, CDM Smith, which will allow the county to further investigate whether other commissioners or county employees also accepted things of value from Wiseman.
In a letter to Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman, which was provided to the Citizen Times, Payne said he and his colleague have interviewed "every living commissioner, current and past, who made themselves available" for the interviews.
Four former commissioners — Frost, Stanley, David Young and Nathan Ramsey — were the exceptions.
Former finance director Tim Flora talks about the corruption in Buncombe County government. Asheville Citizen Times
Payne said none of the commissioners he questioned "recalled ever having met Joe Wiseman, even after being shown a photograph of Mr. Wiseman."
"None of the commissioners took any trips that were paid for by Mr. Wiseman or his company...," Payne wrote, nor did they recall having meals paid for by the contractor.
"As you know, we are going to take the deposition of Joe Wiseman and determine whether or not Mr. Wiseman's recollection of events differs from that of the commissioners," Payne said. He intends to take that deposition in January or February, depending whether he receives records from CDM Smith.
24-years of county service
Stanley, a 90-year-old Asheville Democrat, served six terms on the board since he was first elected in 1988. He got the most votes for the board's regular seats despite a hepatitis outbreak in March of that year that sickened 77 people and was traced to a restaurant Stanley ran.
A few days after that win, Stanley told the Citizen Times that he had started teaching school in the area in the 1950s, "so my name has been out there. I guess I haven't made a whole lot of people mad. Of course, that may change."
Stanley left education for barbecue, opening Bill Stanley's Barbecue & Bluegrass with two partners in the basement of the Hayes & Hopson Building on Spruce and Marjorie streets a few steps away from City Hall.
The restaurant was a community gathering place and great success. He sold the restaurant in 1989, ran the Juvenile Evaluation Center for a time and later retired.
Stanley became a commissioner in late 1988 with a board that reversed 16 years of Republican control of county government. A main goal was to bring professionalism to a county government that had been run by an elected Republican chairman, he said.
Stanley's fellow commissioners had shocked him in November of 2012 by naming the county building at 35 Woodfin St. the William H. Stanley Center.
"They were a bunch of conniving scoundrels" for bringing off the Nov. 20 surprise, Stanley told a reporter at the time. But he also said, "That's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me in my life."
Stanley denied gift card misuse
Stanley was among the five Buncombe commissioners in office at the time federal prosecutors said one of them used a county-purchased gift card to buy food, jewelry and flowers around 2012. All five have denied having anything to do with the spending.
A federal grand jury indictment charging Greene with embezzling public money and aiding and abetting embezzlement alleged that between December 2011 and November 2012 a then-serving commissioner used gift cards bought by Greene and her assistants. Those cards were used "to make purchases that were not for legitimate county purposes," the indictment says.The commissioner is not named in court documents.
"I never received a gift card," Stanley told the Citizen Times in 2018. "I didn't even have a credit card."
Still, Buncombe records show Stanley was one of six commissioners who has held a county-issued credit card since 2007, and by far was the highest spender.
While the other commissioners' individual transactions were below $3,000, Stanley's card covered expenses of more than $38,000 from 2007 to 2012.
Stanley said in 2018 that he didn't recall receiving a card from the county.