First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON — The county Board of Commissioners has lost the final say on who will take the District 8 seat on the board, a decision that Clerk of Superior Court Renae Hunt inherits.
The commissioners failed to meet a state law that says they must act within 60 days to fill a vacant seat on the board. Luther “Bill” Herndon, who had held the seat since 1990, died on Nov. 5
The commissioners had been waiting for the county Democratic Party to come forward with a nomination to fill the District 8 seat, which did not happen within the timeframe. On Tuesday, party representatives met and decided to forward the name of Lennis Watts, a former trooper for the state Highway Patrol, to Hunt for consideration.
“Historically, it has been the practice of the Board of Commissioners to give courtesy to the party and seek their recommendation,” County Attorney Hal Kinlaw said.
Kinlaw said the party should have known about the 60-day deadline because it had been called on three times in recent years to make recommendations. In each instance, it met the deadline.
“I don’t recall a clerk of court having to do this for the past 30 years,” Kinlaw said. “She is going to try to put someone in the seat that can work with the present board, do a good job, and is active in the district. She will consult with the board and with the party.”
Hunt did not return several phone calls seeking her comment.
By state law, Hunt will have to make her appointment within 10 days of being notified that doing so is her responsibility. The law requires that she consult with the local Democratic Party in making her selection.
“We would have liked the opportunity (to make the appointment),” said Noah Woods, chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners, “but she will do a good job of choosing someone.”
Gary Strickland, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, said that difficulty in getting District 8 Democratic precincts organized caused a delay in getting a recommendation to commissioners.
“The only difference in the process is that instead of making our recommendation to the commissioners, we will make our recommendation to the clerk of court,” Strickland said.
During a meeting of Democrats Tuesday night, Democratic precinct leaders selected Watts over two others, former St. Pauls Town Administrator Joe Loflin and Al Parnell, a former deputy sheriff.
“Watts really worked hard to get the nomination from what I saw,” Strickland said. “He won on the first round with both a majority and plurality of the 21.5 votes cast.”
Although it took longer than 60 days to organize precincts and select someone to fill the late commissioner’s seat, Strickland said he thinks the process went well.
“I make no excuse for the process taking too long. No one dropped the ball and information wasn’t skewed,” Strickland said. “My main concern from the very beginning of the process is that every one of the precincts in District 8 had somebody they could bring to the table. I think we are very lucky that all of District 8 had the opportunity to participate in the process.”
Strickland said that he will be presenting the party’s recommendation to the clerk of court today.
Because of the length of time remaining on the term, Herndon’s replacement will have to seek re-election to the board during the May primary. Filing for the May primary begins next month.