Crime & Courts

Union school board refers probe of board member’s mileage to sheriff’s office

The Union County school board referred its probe of a board member’s mileage reimbursement issues to the sheriff’s office this week, officials confirmed Thursday.

Board Chair Richard Yercheck said the information sent to the sheriff involved multiple incidents of alleged double dipping on mileage reimbursement by board Vice Chair Marce Savage. Yercheck declined to discuss specifics.

Savage is also on the North Carolina State Board of Education.

At a contentious meeting of the local school board Nov. 6, Savage apologized for submitting mileage to the local and state board for attending the same event in Belmont on Sept. 18, calling it an honest mistake. The local board directed staff to look into whether there were other mileage issues.

In an interview Thursday, Savage stressed that she has done nothing wrong. She said the board’s actions are “100 percent politically motivated,” and that members are unhappy she does not “rubber stamp what they do.”

Yercheck denied that the actions were politically motivated.

All of the mileage that was billed to the two boards came to less than $1,000, according to Savage.

She said she represents both boards at meetings she attends. “This is for mileage reimbursement, this isn’t profiting,” Savage said. “When I log mileage for both I serve in a dual role.

“If I was not allowed to do that, I’m sorry. It was a simple, honest mistake,” Savage said. “I was never told not to.”

The Union board does not have a specific mileage policy dealing with someone on both boards, Savage said. The local board does have a general expense policy for members to exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would if traveling on personal business and using their own money.

Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said his office is at the preliminary stage of its investigation and declined to discuss details. He could not recall another time in his 12 years as sheriff he had been asked to investigate a school board member.

The Union board has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to further discuss the issue.

The state Board of Education has not met since the mileage allegations surfaced and has not received information about those concerns, said Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Instruction.

Legal fees

At the Nov. 6 meeting, a divided Union board also voted to censure Savage, mainly over the mileage issue and her interaction with a high school administrator when she told him someone was campaigning on school grounds. Savage pointed out that the board censured her despite not having a censure policy.

A report on Savage’s activities was handled for the board by outside counsel, the Asheville law firm of Campbell Shatley.

The school district said it was billed $4,950 by the firm for its investigation into Savage’s activities. The mileage issue had turned up during that work.

Savage noted that outside counsel’s bills were several thousand dollars more than the mileage reimbursements in question.