Just over a week ago, Fred Foster appeared destined to fill a seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
Foster finished second in the 14-person May Democratic primary for five seats on the board. Later that month, he won the Durham County Democratic Party’s recommendation to serve the remaining five months of Joe Bowser’s vacated term.
Durham County Republicans, however, appear to have doused Foster’s political momentum after they released on June 9 a 21-year-old document that questioned the candidate’s integrity as a public employee two decades ago.
Republicans called for Foster to withdraw from consideration of Bowser’s seat and the November election pointing to a 1991 Office of Administrative Hearings document. It says Foster was forced to resign after he used county resources to send private mail and worked a second job, an insurance business, on county time while he was employed by Durham County Department of Social Services.
“If a would-be political leader does not have integrity, they should not be placed in a position of power over citizenry,” the Durham County Republican Party said in a news release.
Foster contends Republicans have misconstrued the information in attempt to stack the county board with people who are “subservient to their interests.”
“I apologized for the misunderstandings and resigned to bring the matter to a conclusion,” Foster said.
“I contest the finding that I violated standards of personal conduct by conducting business affairs of secondary employment,” he continued. “This was a complete fabrication on the part of officials who failed to tell the whole story.”
Regardless, at least three of the four sitting commissioners say they are still grappling with the information. The board delayed a Monday vote on filling Bowser’s seat until a June 25 meeting.
“I think it will weigh pretty seriously in terms of where we go in the next four months,” said Commissioner Chairman Michael Page.
It is unclear how the document could affect the November election in which the five Democratic primary winners – incumbent commissioners Page, Ellen Reckhow and Brenda Howerton, along with Foster, and Wendy Jacobs – will face at least one independent contender, Omar Beasley.
Board of Elections Director Michael Perry said two other candidates – Andy Miller and Lanea Foster – are also working to qualify as independent candidates and secure the required 7,437 registered voters’ signatures by 5 p.m. June 29.DSS tenure
Foster worked for DSS from 1979 to Jan. 5, 1990, when he resigned from an administrative assistant position, according to county information.
Foster said he challenged the county on a claim that he used his position to mail business and personal material, which resulted in the June 11, 1991 Office of Administrative Hearings 13-page document signed by Administrative Law Judge Michael Rivers Morgan.
The documents includes 107 findings of facts based on evidence admitted at a hearing to determine whether DSS had just cause to dismiss Foster, whether proper procedure was followed, and if his resignation was voluntary.
Foster, who has stated that the findings were “incomplete” and “contradictory,” points to finding No. 61, which states he “did not ever mail policies to clients or mail any insurance material to his clients.”
Other findings, however, indicate that mail clerks observed Foster sending unstamped personal mail, in some cases sweepstakes entry forms, through the county mail system that supplies postage.
The findings also indicate that Foster was warned by a supervisor on May 8, 1989 “for reading novels in his office during work time,” and accepting non- work calls. On May 10, 1989 Foster received another warning instructing him to refrain from approaching anyone on work time, particularly employees associated with Foster, on issues outside of his primary duties, the findings state.
The supervisor asked Foster to ensure there “would be no other insurance related-business phone calls or other off-duty matters” after May 15, 1989, the findings state.
In December 1989 the supervisor opened a letter in Foster’s outgoing mailbox and discovered it was an insurance form to someone in Oxford, the findings state.
Foster indicated he had an arrangement with the mail staff that they would accept his personal mail and he would pay for it later, but none of the mail staff supported that contention, the findings state.
At a pre-dismissal hearing that followed, Foster didn’t deny his use of the county mail system, but said other DSS employees did it as well, the findings state.Option to resign
Ultimately, then DSS director Dan Hudgins decided to terminate Foster. Hudgins gave Foster the option to resign and have the dismissal letter removed from his personnel file, which Foster accepted, the findings states.
The 107 findings are followed by 11 “conclusions of law” including that Foster used the county system for his personal mail, and conducted business affairs of his secondary employment - his insurance business - on county time.
The document also concluded that DSS had just cause to dismiss Foster, his resignation was voluntary, and proper procedure was followed.
Foster has pointed out that the Office of Administrative Hearings document was a “recommended decision,” but states he is not aware of another final report.
Foster also points to his larger record of service, which includes working for the state, 22 years of honorable military service, along with serving as the president of the Old Farm Neighborhood Association, and president of the Durham Chapter of the NAACP.
“I have put myself out here to serve the community,” Foster said. “I don’t know how much more that I need to do to show the community that I tried to make sure that I have done what I could to show that I want to be in the community, doing the right thing, trying to make sure that I give back to the community.”