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Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. securing state funds for road improvements in his father's neighborhood

Pothole

On Monday, New Hanover county commissioners gave their support for a plan to use $100,000 in state funds to repair several cul-de-sacs, including one that Commissioner Jonathan Barfield’s father lives on.

WHQR's Kelly Kenoyer and Ben Schachtman discussed the recent vote.

Kelly Kenoyer: Hey Ben, welcome!

Ben Schachtman: Hey Kelly.

KK: So I wanted to talk to you about this vote from the county commission on Monday — it went by really fast, but it’s actually fairly complicated. It has to do with $100,000 in funding for road repairs in the Northern county off Gordon Road.

BS: Right, so we found out a lot about this from an article in Port City Daily by Preston Lennon, so shout out to him for some good work. Basically, in North Carlina, since the 20s, counties can’t build roads. And, you know, over the last four or five decades, developers have come along, they’ve built subdivisions, they've sold them off, and walked away, and you get sort of orphan roads that no one is responsible for. They’re outside the city — because cities can build roads, counties can’t build roads — and they’re often not built up to the standards of the state, so the state won’t take them over. So what has to happen is you need to put some money into the roads to get them up to snuff so the state can take them over. And that’s what’s happening here, with State Senator Michael Lee getting the NCDOT to tap into some of its state contingency funds.

KK: So the roads in question here, it’s five cul-de-sacs in the Northern part of the county, and I hear that Commissioner Jonathan Barfield got the ball rolling with the help of Senator Mike Lee for this.

BS: yes, and here’s the crux of the issue. we wouldn’t probably be talking about this consent agenda item at all, except for the fact that Jonathan Barfield’s father lives on one of those cul-de-sacs — and Barfield is the one who shepherded this project along.

KK: Yeah, I called him up about this to ask whether he considered recusing himself from the vote, on account of his connection to the neighborhoods. Here’s what he said.

Jonathan Barfield: What do you do? Do you help people? Or do you not help people? And it really wasn't about my parents, it's about — I know, I know the majority of those folks out there. My parents lived out there since the mid-80s. One of the ladies out there actually used to babysit with as a kid, ok not her but her mother, a long time ago — it's a majority black community. It's been there for a long time.

KK: Well, I guess the argument would be that because you know this neighborhood so well, because you are so close with some of these neighbors —

JB: I know the county. I grew up here. I've helped out numerous areas in this county. I grew up here. I went to school here. My dad went to school here. My dad served as the county commissioner here. Why would I not know this county?

KK: I also asked him whether this could be considered a conflict of interest.

JB: There is no benefit for me so there is no conflict of interest. For me, there was no conflict of interest. I'm helping five streets get their road repaired, period. I mean, that's the story. Again, I would encourage you to go out to that neighborhood. And talk to those individuals that ask them that they feel it's a conflict.

KK: And he did mention a time he recused himself in the past.

JB: I recused myself once, only one time, since I've been on the board that there was a conflict for me. And that's when I was going to benefit from something. And my board actually voted it down. So I've been on the board long enough to understand what a conflict is. I've also been on the board long enough, long enough know how you help people solve their problems.

KK: He also made a point to mention the inequities that typically fall on majority-Black neighborhoods, and that it’s been decades that these residents have been asking to get these roads repaired. So Ben, is this a conflict of interest?

BS: Well, you have to ask, who benefits from these roads? Usually, when the state takes over these roads, even a subdivision road, it’s because it benefits a large number of people. You’ve got people cutting through on Lendire Road or Torchwood Road up in Odgen and Porter’s Neck. So that’s usually the logic, that it benefits a lot of people.

KK: But these are cul-de-sacs, it just serves the people who live on them.

BS: And one of the people living on them is Jonathan Barfield’s father. So, we have the commissioners’ statement, and we have that fact, and so we leave it to listeners to decide.

KK: Alright, well thank you, Ben.

BS: Happy to be here.