Judge Finds Barrett Not Guilty
Former Taylortown Mayor Ulysses Simpson Grant Barrett Jr. was cleared of all criminal charges against him Thursday.
Judge Rusty Hammond found Barrett not guilty in Moore County District Court on one charge after earlier dismissing another. He interrupted cross-examination of the town's attorney to call Assistant District Attorney Chris Willis and defense attorney Bruce Cunningham before the bench.
"I will sit here and listen as long as you want," Hammond said. "This ain't going nowhere."
The State Bureau of Investigation arrested Barrett on three misdemeanor charges, one of which would have barred him from holding public office if convicted. Barrett is no longer mayor but remains on the council. He has been on the council for 16 years. He has always maintained his innocence.
Originally launched by former District Attorney Garland Yates, the investigation resulted in three charges agaist Barrett. He was accused of violating state laws by acting as a town manager while holding the position of mayor, benefiting from a public contract while being a public officer and violating a fraud statute for allegedly paying a resident's legal bill without the permission of the council.
The first charge was dropped before trial, as Taylortown does not have a manager/council form of government.
After Willis concluded the state's case Thursday morning, Cunning-ham made the customary motion for dismissal of both remaining charges based on evidence presented. Hammond recessed court for a shorter-than-usual 45-minute lunch break, indicating he would rule afterward.
Hammond threw out the charge that Barrett benefited from a public contract while serving as mayor. It was based on Barrett's subcontracting with the council to repair the historic Taylor House that the town bought.
State law allows small municipalities such as Taylortown, which has only 900 residents, to contract work by elected officials as long as the contract is for less than $25,000, according to Willis. In 2005, Barrett estimated the Taylor House job at $29,303 according to documents entered in court.
During cross-examination of Town Clerk Carolyn Mitchell, Cunningham brought out that all checks for materials were paid directly to Lowe's, where the town had an account. Barrett had initialed every receipt for this work as "Taylor House," she said.
That didn't matter, Willis contended. The contract was over the limit, and Barrett did profit by the deal. It doesn't matter how big or how small the profit was, he argued.
SBI special agent Elena Turbeville was the first witness called by the state. Her testimony allowed introduction of receipts, canceled checks, letters and town minutes -- most of them copies taken at the Town Hall with some obtained from county offices.
The more serious charge had to do with the town paying its attorney, William Morgan, for work he did appealing a county Planning Board action for a resident, Gladys Garris.
Legal bills mentioning her red-flagged the matter in Mitchell's mind, according to her testimony. She asked then Mayor Pro Tem (now mayor) Jesse F. Fuller Sr., to look at the statements.
"I said I didn't know anything about that," Fuller said in his testimony. "I told her to ask Mr. Barrett."
Barrett explained the town needed Garris as an appellant, because Taylortown had no standing to challenge the Planning Board's action even though it was in what would normally have been the town's extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction (ETJ).
Taylortown -- alone among municipalities in the state, Morgan said -- was denied ETJ authority by the General Assembly back in 1987 when the town incorporated. The Town Council wanted to have the zoning control and had asked Morgan to look into how to do it. Barrett said he told the council that he was "doing the leg work" on it.
By paying the cost of her appeal, Taylortown could get what everybody on the council wanted: to block a development at the very edge of town.
Willis argued that the reasons didn't matter. He questioned Morgan during cross-examination about not getting a vote by the council.
"I do so many things for towns it would be absurd to me for them to vote every time I do something for a town," Morgan said. "I was using a citizen as a stand-in for my client. It was unusual, not improper."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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