When Berlester Campbell was running for the District 2 seat on the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, he was eager to tell this newspaper of his plans for his monthly stipend of $700. Campbell told us, so we would tell readers — and voters — that he would not keep the money, but would instead donate it to worthy causes within his district. He said as well that he would form a committee to help him decide who was worthy of that consideration.
He also insisted that The Robesonian provide coverage when he made those donations.
Twice since he took his seat on the board in December, The Robesonian has contacted Campbell, asking him to provide proof that he was keeping his campaign promise. Both times he acted annoyed, put us off for a while, but eventually he provided evidence that he is indeed donating the money — and that the donations were made before we began asking questions.
In a story published in The Robesonian on Friday, some of the beneficiaries of Campbell’s benevolence told our readers what a difference a $100 or $200 gift made to their initiative.
Campbell has not kept his promise to form a committee to help him distribute the money, so that part of his campaign promise has been broken. He said he found it tedious and inefficient, which we accept. The important part is that Campbell is getting the money out in the community, and for that, he deserves credit.
When making the pledge, Campbell was pandering to the voters, taking advantage of this newspaper’s exposure of our county commissioners as being the best paid and benefited in North Carolina. The monthly stipend is just one example of the collective arrogance of our commissioners, which cost one commissioner his seat in the last election, and almost cost two more theirs.
Based on the county’s reimbursement rate of 45 cents a mile, a commissioner would have to travel 1,555 miles a month — about 52 a day — to earn a $700 reimbursement. Trust us, no county commissioner travels that much on county business.
The other problem is that county commissioners are not required to provide proof of any expenses — as do our county employees, who must keep records and submit expense reports. These commissioners have no problem honoring themselves better than regular employees of the county, which was obvious when they provided free health insurances to members of their own families while county workers were required to pay almost $4,000 a year for the family to be included on their plan.
That benefit went poof as soon as we exposed it to our readers.
So good for Campbell for keeping his promise, and putting those 700 taxpayer dollars to work in his district instead of accepting it as what it really is, an additional $8,400 in yearly salary for commissioners who are already overpaid.
With the May primary just nine months away, it will be interesting to see if other candidates make similar promises to either return the benefit to the community, or to work on the board to bring their pay and benefits back to where they should be when compared with similar-sized counties and Robeson’s pervasive poverty is part of the algebra.
If they follow Campbell’s lead, they should know now we will ask for proof.