Mayor: E-mails to woman were ‘not appropriate’
by Staff Writer
Mayor Chris Montgomery has been engaging in intimate conversations with a local woman using his town-issued e-mail account and town office, public records reveal.
When initially contacted on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 4, the mayor said the woman – whose name changes from Molly King to Grace King in the chain of e-mails that span from Nov. 10 to Dec. 9 – “is just an old friend.”
“We’ve known each other for a long time. We’ve shared some things with each other, and it’s sticky,” Montgomery said.
However, when provided one specific e-mail he wrote to King, in which he told her “I love you and promise we will be together without hurting anyone,” Montgomery acknowledged the conversations were “not appropriate.”
He said public exposure of the e-mails “is going to ruin my family.” When asked if he had anything to say to his constituents, Montgomery responded: “I guess not.”
But on Wednesday morning, he called with a fresh perspective: “Because of your reporting, you’ve nipped something in the bud that should have never gone on in the first place. This is not spin or damage-control.
I’m being as sincere as I’ve ever been in my life in thanking you for doing that.
My major, primary, first priority is my family, and you’ve put the initiative out there to get my head on straight. I want to thank you for that.”
Montgomery said he has no intentions of stepping down as mayor: “I’m gonna stick with the program and keep going; we have a lot of good things going on in 2011.”
He said he is also still considering a bid for re-election in November. “Of course this is a big factor,” he said of the exposure of his e-mails.
Town Attorney Steve Gambill said as far as he knows, the town has “no specific policy addressing elected officials’ use of public equipment.” The town board’s “only recourse whenever actions of a board member are questioned is its ethics policy,” he said, adding that he knows of “no immediate recourse that the voters have if they deem behavior is inappropriate.”
Said Montgomery: “If it is an embarrassment for Mooresville, I don’t want to drag Mooresville down, but (my wife) Lisa and I talked last night. Everyone has problems. There are no Cleavers.”
Messages sent from trips, family vacation
Only once in Montgomery’s e-mail exchanges with King is his wife mentioned: “I just want to know for sure if Lisa knows about me,” King wrote on Nov. 12.
“I told you no,” Mongomery replied.
“But when have you believed me?”
While the mayor was spending Thanksgiving with his family at Holden Beach, he wrote King: “At the beach, missing you.”
Back at home, he e-mailed King from an eighth-grade band concert. “Everything is groovy. EVERYTHING,” he wrote.
Lisa Montgomery said Tuesday that her husband is a good man who makes mistakes.
“Our marriage is just like everybody else’s marriage,” she said. “We struggle every single day. If it’s gotta be out there for everybody to see, so be it. We’re committed to our family. My children are number one.”
On a four-day town-related trip to Denver for the annual Congress of Cities Expo, Montgomery asks to King: “Can you fly out here?” he asks her. “Come on! Spend tonight.”
King asked the mayor if he was having fun in Colorado.
“Not yet,” he replied.
“Why?” she asked.
“You are not here,” he answered.
Montgomery tells King on Dec. 4: “I want to cover you in rose petals.”
She replies: “E-mail is making me nervous.”
There’s good reason for that. N.C. General Statutes Chapter 132 states that “public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions” – including letters and e-mails – “are the property of the people.”
Many times, Montgomery and King use e-mails to determine the best times to talk on the phone or the best times and places to meet. He often juggles e-mail conversations with King while writing and responding to town-related matters and potential music “gigs.”
During his town trip to Colorado on Dec. 3, for example, Montgomery sent Commissioner Miles Atkins an e-mail at 7:26 p.m., informing him that he had forwarded an e-mail to Davidson’s public
information officer. At 8:44 p.m., he wrote to King again: “Hitting downtown. Wish you were here.”
Policies don’t address leaders’ e-mails
Mooresville has a policy governing town employees’ use of technology and cell phones, including smartphones like the town-issued BlackBerry devices that Montgomery and the town board carry.
The BlackBerry devices allow the board to send and receive e-mails even when they are away from their computers. But those town policies, said Gambill, “apply only to employees.”
“There are no similar policies that apply to the board.”
He said, however, that the ethics policy revised by the town board in October applies to all board members and that “the mayor is considered a member of the board and is subject to all provisions of the ethics policy.”
Gambill said the ethics policy “sets out the process that the board would have to follow in order to initiate censure proceedings.” But when asked if the mayor’s conduct over town e-mail provides ample cause for town commissioners to censure the mayor, Gambill responded, “As the board’s attorney, your question is something that I would have to reserve solely for discussion with the board itself.”
Mayor, wife to work through marriage
Wednesday morning, Montgomery said he and his wife are planning to work on their marriage through ministry-based counseling. “We’re going to stay out in front of this instead of hiding under a rock or a pillow,” he said. “After I read the article, if I read it, I’m sure people will have comments; that’s the fallout. If I’m damned for that, then so be it. I’d rather be a man and face up to it than cower behind it.”
The mayor called his wife “a phenomenal woman.”
“She’s a grown-up. I’ve got some growing up to do,” he said. “She’s solid. I’m just very blessed and very fortunate.”
He said his wife has recently “been asking God to show her a way that she can witness” and that the two of them discussed Tuesday night how they “can use this (experience) as a ministry” inside and outside of their church.
“It’s a huge turn-off when someone does something bad, then all of a sudden, they’re all holy roly,” the mayor said, adding, however, that “things happen for a reason.” Montgomery said he hopes to be able to help others through his own experience: “That’s where I want to be.”