By DEUCE NIVEN
Allegations of sexual misconduct by Columbus County Manager Mike Stephens have prompted an outside investigation initiated by county commissioners months after the Sheriff Jody Greene tried to look into the allegations.
Commissioners meeting in closed session Monday agreed to seek outside counsel to look into the allegations from Board of Elections employee Portia Bowen involving the county manager, three members confirmed this week.
County Attorney Amanda Prince asked not to be involved in the investigation because she works closely with the manager, who was hired as county attorney in 2009.
Stephens served for several months as both manager and attorney before Prince was hired nearly a year ago, and was charged with training her in that post.
Stephens, through Prince, declined to comment on the pending legal matter. Whiteville area resident Calvin Norton, linked to Stephens in Bowen’s complaint, denied any wrongdoing in an e-mail newsletter.
Two lawyers, a male and a female, have been charged with examining the allegations, commissioner Ricky Bullard confirmed. Their firm was recommended by the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It was not clear this week if that investigation has begun, but commissioners expect urgency, Bullard said.
“ASAP is what we told them,” Bullard said of the recommended timeline for the investigation. “Get it over with.”
There might have been an earlier, criminal investigation, but Bowen chose not to cooperate when Sheriff Greene contacted her in late February, her complaint said.
“He let me know that he is aware of what’s going on and then said that if I wasn’t comfortable speaking to him that he would have a female detective speak with me,” the complaint said. “I told him that I wasn’t at liberty to speak about it but would consider what he said and would call him back. I didn’t. I wasn’t ready now that the information is out I’m nervous, scared and a bunch of things are going through my mind.”
Bullard and commissioner Charles McDowell each said the allegations were inconsistent with what they believe of Stephens’ character, but that they support an investigation to determine the truth.
Chairman Trent Burroughs declined comment because the issue involves the performance of personnel.
Two elections officials have resigned or given notice, Bowen expected to leave at the end of next week, Senior Elections Specialist Jackie Bozeman taking retirement at the beginning of this week. – Includes reporting by Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter
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