Former Labor Commissioner John Brooks has been removed as chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party’s Council of Review, the party’s committee tasked with resolving internal disputes. In her letter dismissing Brooks, NCDP Chair Patsy Keever referenced multiple violations of the party’s Plan of Organization, as well as, Brooks’ refusal to delay a hearing scheduled for Sunday April 12, at 9:00 a.m. after the Respondent suffered a serious heart attack on Thursday April 2, and underwent emergency surgery. Keever ended her letter with the simple admonishment,
“We cannot treat our fellow Democrats in this manner.”
Brooks quickly shot out an email refusing to accept his dismissal, claiming that the chair does not have the authority to remove him from his position as chair or from the Council of Review.
“This letter is void ab initio!
The chair and members of the Council of Review do not serve at the pleasure of the state chair. The only two people who can be "fired" by the state chair are the treasurer and the executive director.”
Brooks’ email displays a basic lack of familiarity with and understanding of the NCDP Plan of Organization - the very document he is charged with upholding. He states that the chair and members of the Council of Review do not serve at the pleasure of the state chair, completely failing to acknowledge that the Council is comprised of both elected and appointed members.
The elected members are selected at District Conventions in even years. Appointed members serve at the pleasure of the chair and can be replaced at any time, for any reason.
From the Party Plan of Organization:
Members. The Council of Review shall consist of one (1) member from each congressional district who shall be elected at the congressional district conventions held in even-numbered years, and four (4) members at-large to be appointed by the state chair.
No person may be a member of the Council of Review who also serves as a chair of a county or district executive committee or as an elected or appointed officer of the state executive committee.
Officers. The state chair shall appoint a chair and a secretary of the Council of Review from among the members of the Council of Review.
Terms. Terms for members of the Council of Review shall begin upon the date of their election or appointment and end on the date in the next even numbered year set for district conventions or until their successors are elected or appointed. (Emphasis my own)
The terms of members as set forth in the PoO are very clear. Members serve until their term ends either on the date of the next election in even numbered years OR until their successors are elected or appointed.
Mr. Brooks’ replacement has been appointed. Attorney Ryan Butler, who has served the party as chair of the LGBT Caucus, has been appointed to the Council of Review by the state party chair, and he was subsequently appointed to serve as chair of the Council.
Former chair Randy Voller, who repeatedly violated the Plan of Organization, even making up and assigning himself powers not mentioned in the PoO, has weighed in, once again demonstrating he lacks a basic understanding of the document.
When I was elected in 2013, Mr. Wilson and I discussed my appointments. We had differing views on the council of review, which was further complicated by the redistricting that was done by the NCGA. The membership was clarified with the elections in 2014 at the district conventions. We agreed that the four appointments of the chair would term out at the end of May in 2016, which would align all terms with the Plan of Organization and District Conventions. (Emphasis my own)
Randy Voller did not have the power to decide terms for Council of Review members appointed by the state chair. That would require amending the Plan of Organization, which takes a vote of the State Executive Committee. The only Council members who have a defined term are those who are elected to the Council of Review – not those appointed by the state chair.
Brooks is not taking this sitting down. He has decided to hold a meeting at the Holiday Inn in Raleigh, putting at risk any members of the Council in attendance. Those choosing to act outside the party structure may find themselves dismissed based on section 9.04 in the PoO.
9.04 REMOVAL OF MEMBERS
The state executive council shall have the right to remove from office any member of the Council of Review upon two-thirds (⅔) of the state executive council present and voting being satisfied that the Council of Review member has been disloyal to the Party, has refused or failed to perform his or her duties, or is guilty of any misconduct which is not in keeping with his or her high position of honor in the Democratic Party.
Setting the meeting at 9:00 on the Sunday that follows a Saturday packed with long conventions in many counties and being unwilling to change the meeting to a more reasonable date and time are bad enough, but Brooks has crossed the line and broken the rules in other ways.
The PoO requires that both parties to a grievance be offered the opportunity for mediation.
In 9.07 under Mediation:
Within ten (10) days after a grievance is received by the chair of the Council of Review, the chair of the Council of Review shall invite the Petitioner(s) and the Respondent(s) to participate in mediation by the executive director.
Brooks did not offer the Respondent the opportunity to participate in mediation and it is unclear whether he offered the Petitioner’s the opportunity based on the wording below. According to his email, it looks like he did not offer the parties the opportunity to mediate because the Executive Director, who would handle the mediation, has not yet been hired.
3. A hearing on this issue was scheduled for 9 a.m. this Sunday, April 12th, after the petitioners declined “mediation” since “mediation” was actually unavailable. A. The issue is a black and white issue – either the “notice” requirement was or it was not complied with. The requirement can not be compromised. Moreover, mediation in this instance would only be a delaying tactic since there is no one empowered at the present time to mediate. No one has been nominated by the State Chair to the Executive Council to be Executive Director of the State Party and so there is no one eligible to mediate under the rules set forth in the Plan of Organization.
The Petitioner and Respondent should not be penalized simply because an ED has not been hired, especially when interviews are taking place. Brooks was not entitled to void a provision in the Plan of Organization, regardless of the reason.
John Brooks made a unilateral decision to grant the Petitioner an extension of time to build a case even though it was in clear violation of the Plan of Organization.
From Section 9.03 Rules and Decisions:
Any grievances arising from such Party meetings or convention not brought to the attention of the chair of the Council of Review within the ten (10) days shall be deemed to have been waived, unless the Council of Review determines that the incident or event could not have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence within such period of time.
The lead Petitioner in this complaint was claiming that she did not receive proper notice of a meeting. She attended the meeting and nominated the woman who is the Respondent to serve out the rest of the term of the 3rd Congressional District Chair. The Petitioner’s nominee (now known as the Respondent) did not win, and the Petitioner apparently decided to file a complaint because she did not get a postcard notifying her of a meeting that she attended.
Then, even though hearsay evidence is not allowed in Council of Review hearings, Brooks gave the Petitioner extra time to gather inadmissible hearsay evidence. Finally, when the Petitioner failed to gather enough inadmissible hearsay evidence, John Brooks stepped way outside the boundaries of his role as chair and conducted an investigation, sending surveys into the district in an attempt to collect inadmissible hearsay evidence.
This issue of required notice is not one that can be waived. Either the requirements were met or they weren’t. Nevertheless a petition was filed and I requested that the petitioners attempt an expanded survey to determine whether or not it appeared that the “notice” requirement was met or whether there really was an issue that needed the Council’s attention. The petitioners attempted to do this but did not get enough feed-back to reach a useful conclusion. I gave them an extension of time to do this survey. When the attempted survey was inconclusive, I had them file their petition and I personally mailed out a survey to all 40 members of the 3rdDistrict Executive Committee. I have received 4 responses – two saying they received a notice and two saying that they did not. (emphasis my own)
Brooks’ interference was not only inappropriate, it was not welcomed by all recipients of his survey. David Cox commented on Facebook:
When I recently received a "survey" from Mr. Brooks concerning the most recent petition, I was surprised at his ex-parte investigation. Generally, in judicial proceedings, including quasi-judicial ones, it is impermissible for members of the body to consider "evidence" not presented at the hearing under rules of evidence and the usual protections. So when I received the survey attached to an undated letter from Mr. Brooks, I consulted the POO. I also read the petition. Of the four individuals listed as not receiving notice, one lives in the 7th CD, one was present at the 3rd CD meeting, a third informed the acting chair that she could not attend due to schedule conflict, and the fourth was mailed a notice.
Clearly, the Council of Review was in need of new leadership. Brooks showed repeatedly he lacked impartiality and from all appearances, he was using his role as chair to act out his own vendettas. NCDP Chair Patsy Keever did the right thing in removing Brooks before he could do further damage.