An investigation has found that Morrisville Councilman Steve Diehl submitted 12 nearly duplicate responses to a recent survey on a bond referendum.
Councilman Mark Stohlman called for the investigation saying Diehl’s actions hurt public confidence and Diehl, in essence, stuffed the ballot box to skew the results.
Diehl favored spending $20 million in bonds for Morrisville Aquatics Center upgrades, N.C. 54 improvements and a new Public Works facility.
His submissions accounted for 12 of the 101 responses the town received to its survey about spending and project preferences.
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Diehl denied Stohlman’s accusations at a meeting Tuesday. He said he submitted multiple surveys because of a glitch he thought existed in the system.
“There was no intent to unduly influence the survey outcome or in any way act unethically. Not getting a ‘completed survey received’ message, I thought there was a glitch in the transmission and simply resubmitted the answers,” said Diehl, reading from a statement.
Had he realized the survey had been submitted multiple times, Diehl said he would have asked for them to be removed.
“I stand by the truth. I know I did not seek to do anything wrong. My conscience and motivation is clear,” Diehl said.
Stohlman said he wasn’t buying Diehl’s explanations. He said there were no glitches reported for the online survey. Stohlman asked for the investigation after reviewing the IP addresses on the questionnaires. He said he asked to see the survey responses because he was surprised at the larger than usual number of responses.
Stohlman said he was able to match the IP address from multiple surveys to an email that Diehl sent him on an unrelated topic.
Stohlman turned over his information to town attorney Frank Gray who was able to corroborate Stohlman’s findings.
Gray said it was “reasonable to conclude” that the 12 surveys submitted between April 20 and May 4 were sent from the email address attributed to Diehl.
The council made no determination that Diehl acted unethically, and the ethics code doesn’t require them to. The code, adopted in 2010, doesn’t outline a procedure for determining if council members are not following the policy.
Councilwoman Liz Johnson said she was against putting a censure option in the policy.
“It’s not appropriate for any member up here to censure each other,” Johnson said. “It’s best left to the public.”
Town Manager John Whitson said he has put in some preventative measures such as additional training to the town’s public information officer and automating the detection of the IP addresses.