LUMBERTON — The newly elected Robeson County commissioner for District 2 says he will stand by his campaign pledge to donate his $700 monthly travel stipend back to the community.
Berlester Campbell said Wednesday, the day after he defeated incumbent Commissioner Hubert Sealey in the Democratic primary run-off, that he will accept the $13,360 a month salary that commissioners are currently paid to conduct county business. He also said he will use his annual allotment of community development funds, currently $30,000, to provide funding for organizations and projects of his choice.
But Campbell said he will not pocket the $700 stipend intended for expenses that commissioners incur while doing county business.
“…The one thing I ask is that The Robesonian print each month who I give the money to,” Campbell told The Robesonian on Wednesday.
Since as early as January, Campbell, a Fairmont resident and former county commissioner, made it known to voters in his district that if elected he would not accept the travel stipend, which a survey of county financial records by The Robesonian last summer showed has increased from $300 a month in 1995 to the current $700 a month. The commissioners receive additional expense money when they do business outside the county.
Sealey, a county commissioner since 2002, was a member of the board when salaries and travel stipends jumped and other lucrative benefits were approved. He has defended the pay and benefits of the county commissioners, which when combined rank at the top of the state along with Durham County.
Campbell, who will take office in December, said that he plans to set up a committee to review applications from organizations, agencies, and community institutions — such as churches and schools — that request funds. The guidelines, application process and committee have not yet been established, he said.
“I’ll have everything in place when I go on the board so that when that first (stipend) check comes in everything is ready to go,” Campbell said.
According to Campbell, his application review committee will represent the diversity of the people he represents.
“I’ll find three loyal people,” he said. “The committee will be tri-racial.”
Campbell said that while he will have to strictly follow the county’s guidelines and established requirements for distributing discretionary funds, he will have wide latitude in how he distributes his monthly stipend.
“That stipend money is personal money that is given to me,” he said. “I can use it as I choose, or as my committee chooses.”
Campbell said he doesn’t know if his pledge to not donate the stipend carried much weight with voters. He attributes his victory over Sealey, he said, to a desire by people in his district — which includes municipalities such as Fairmont, Maxton and Rowland — for change.
“People came and asked me to run because change is needed,” Campbell said. “I can’t say exactly what that change is until I’m on the board and can see how things are run.”
In the run-off election Tuesday, Campbell garnered 826 votes to Sealey’s 638 votes. The election results are unofficial until votes are canvassed on Tuesday.