Johnston County

Johnston County commissioner shared school finance documents online

Johnston County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell apologized Thursday for sharing photos of school board finance statements – which included bank account numbers – on Facebook.

The move forced the school system to close the accounts and move its money to new ones at another financial institution.

Braswell says what he calls a “lapse in judgment” stemmed from his campaign for the N.C. House of Representatives District 28 seat against School Board Chairman Larry Strickland. Braswell said he shared the documents on Facebook in response to being “inundated with mailers” from Strickland that asserted that the school board had saved county residents from a potential tax increase during the recession by returning $20 million to the county. Braswell said that didn’t happen overnight.

“I wanted to clear up the fact that that money has been over there for a long period of time,” Braswell said. “You don’t save $20 million in one year and then turn around and give it back. That happens from years of over-budgeting.”

Braswell said the issue has been used against the county and “in the emotion of trying to protect the county taxpayers, I just did it and that doesn’t excuse it.”

There was a time in 2010 when the school board had an excess of money in the bank, Braswell said, and the two boards agreed to “return some of it back to the tax payers.

“We didn’t feel at the time it was right for the school board to have that money,” he said. “But we weren’t going to make a big deal of it or embarrass each other at the time. Now it’s coming back to haunt me.”

So Braswell, who had access to school board financial documents, decided to share parts of three bank statements by taking photos of them and posting them to his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. By evening, Braswell had removed the photos, he said, after another county commissioner told him they contained the account numbers.

“Whatever the excuse was doesn’t excuse the fact that I did it and I certainly have apologized for that,” he said. “I got caught up in the emotions and frustration ... But that’s not a reason to do it. It was a lapse in judgment and I regret it. I certainly meant no harm to anyone.”

The school system issued a statement from the Board of Education on Thursday that said a “political candidate” posted sensitive financial information on a social media site, but it did not name Braswell.

The school board was concerned the released documents could put the system “at risk of being victims of financial fraud.” The release said the board immediately moved to secure the accounts and that the accounts were closed to prevent any “improper or illegal actions from being taken.”

The money in the accounts was transferred to new ones with a different financial institution, the release said.

Braswell said he did not know what banks were affected, and the school system did not identify the financial institutions involved.

Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett