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Republicans press Reisinger investigation

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Expense account, “snow day” documents requested

Under scrutiny are Reisinger’s controversial closing of his office for a day and a half during a snow event in February, as well as personal expense and travel spending during his time in office.

County GOP spokesman Nathan West has accused the county of “delaying” requests for the documents, one of which was made on July 24 and another several days later.

The Republicans have not specified what they are looking for in “about 50 documents” they are seeking. Reisinger has already said that much of his travel time has been personal, devoted to traveling to see his wife, who is hospitalized in Chapel Hill. She is suffering from cystic fibrosis following the birth of the Reisingers’ first child.

The document requests are the latest viewing-with-a-jaundiced-eye developments by GOP members who have been complaining since 2012 that Reisinger’s office is being protected by the Democratic-controlled commission.

A quiet, well-lighted place

There’s a reason why the title is “Register of Deeds.”

The person who holds that title supervises the office that holds the records of everything in Buncombe county that the law demands a record of. Not just “deeds” in the sense of property conveyance, but such other “deeds” as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, business registrations, lawsuits and judgments.

All of which are recorded in shelf after shelf of file folders, or in enormous bound volumes stacked on shelves equipped with rollers. On a typical workday the records hums with the quiet activity of lawyers, paralegals, realtors and ordinary citizens poring over two centuries’ worth of transactions, while in the front office, at a row of teller-like windows, clerks receive and dispense information and collect fees for doing so. Altogether the atmosphere is much like that of a public library. And the register of deeds, who supervises the running of this hive, naturally holds a vital post in county government, but one that is supposedly above – or at least at arm’s length from – the cut and thrust of county politics.

Or so it seemed until January of 2011, when Democrat Otto Debruhl, who had held the office for nearly a third of a century, upset the balance of the universe by announcing his retirement.

According to state law, this meant that it was up to the county’s Board of Commissioners to ratify the appointment of whomever the liocal Democratic party should choose to fill DeBruhl’s unexpired term. Accordingly, the Democrats went into caucus to choose from among three candidates: DeBruhl’s longtime assistant JoAnn Morgan – who held DeBruhl’s endorsement; former state senator Charles Carter, and Reisinger, an incomer known chiefly for having successfully run Rep. Patsy Keever’s election campaign, and for his similar work on behalf of city councilman Gordon Smith. During a protracted late-night session, the Democratic Executive Committee snubbed Morgan’s experience and Carter’s political clout and handed the baton to Reisinger.

Reisinger, at the time of his appointment, was 27 years old. Debruhl had held the register of deeds office longer than Reisinger had been alive. Interviewed by local blogger Richard Bernier in a video that went viral on social media, Reisinger acknowledged that he had “not served one day” in the register of deeds office and had no background in city administration, but hoped that a three-day seminar offered by the North Carolina School of Government would provide sufficient grounding for him to begin work.

Reisinger’s appointment drew immediate fire from the local Republican organization, which had been eyeing the register of deeds position as a prime foothold in county government. County GOP chairman Chad Nesbitt fired the first volley.“The leadership of the Buncombe County Democrat Party,” he said, “ is out of control. They just appointed an unqualified, agenda-driven progressive to secure the citizens’ most precious documents. The Buncombe County Republican Party is seeking legal council [sic] to what options may be available to stop this and hold the leadership of the Democrat Party accountable to the citizens of Buncombe County.”

Out of control or not, the county’s democrats, in the 2012 general elections, engineered a comfortable 13-point win by Reisinger over Republican candidate Pat Cothran. Reisinger was now Register of Deeds in his own right and lost no time putting his own stamp on the office.

Last October, Reisinger gained nationwide media attention by announcing that he would begin accepting applications for marriage licenses by same-sex couples. The move flew in the face of North Carolina’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper had said, the day before Reisinger made his announcement, that he personally endorsed same-sex marriage but was obliged to uphold the state constitution and therefore could take no action until and unless the constitution were to be changed. In light of that foregone conclusion, Reisinger’s action was labeled by his opponents as grandstanding and politicizing an office that, in theory at least, was apolitical. For his part, Reisinger said he would continue to accept applications and hold them in abeyance pending a change in law.

Then came the snow

It wasn’t unexpected; indeed, local media had for several days been hyping the arrival of a “major winter storm” sometime during the overnight of February 11 – 12. Sure enough, on the morning of Tuesday the 12th, Ashevillians woke to downy flurries that soon changed into the kind of smaller, hard-falling flakes that mean business. Early on, Mayor Esther Manheimer issued a weather “state of emergency” effective from noon that day until 6 p.m. the next day (Thursday the 13th). Manheimer issued her proclamation, she said,”to demonstrate solidarity and assure an agile response” to inclement weather conditions. ”Non-essential” city employees were sent home at 4 p.m.

But Reisinger, acting on his own initiative, closed his department at noon and kept it closed all the following day. Now, county policy is that county offices must remain open during inclement weather, but employees who opt not to try to come to work must use their own leave time to stay away. Reisinger’s actions effectively docked his 17-member staff for a day and a half of vacation time.

Reisinger posted Facebook pictures of himself and family members frolicking in the snow – a move which woujld come back to haunt him.

In June, Barnardsville businessman Eddie Harwood lodged a formal complaint against Reisinger with county commission, saying that Reisinger’s closing of the office deprived his staff of earned vacation time. In all fairness, Harwood said, Reisinger’s staff should be compensated for a day and a half of lost work – a process that would cost the county approximately half a million dollars. And after reviewing the situation, commisisoners agreed with him.

“They had to take leave. … People just weren’t treated fairly,” County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene said.

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