Change of heart

Published 6:17pm Sunday, March 23, 2014

WINDSOR – Bertie County District-2 County Commissioner Rick Harrell stunned his board colleagues as well as his supporters here Thursday morning when he read a letter indicating he will not be seeking votes in the upcoming May primary.

The announcement means a 16-year of public service in local government will end with the expiration of his current term of office in November of this year.

Standing before the board and others present at the reconvened commissioner’s meeting, Harrell, in a steady voice, read his two-paragraph announcement:

“To the citizens of Bertie County:

After much prayer, thought and consideration, I, Rick Harrell, Bertie County Commissioner for District 2, submit my intent to withdraw from the electoral process. I will continue to serve until the end of my term.  My name will appear on the May primary ballot, however, I will not be seeking votes from the citizens of Bertie County”

Harrell’s letter also spoke of his devotion to the service he has given to local government and the county he loves.

“During my sixteen years of service to this county, I have tried to serve with integrity, honesty, and moral soundness for all of the citizens of the county.  I love this county and the people.  I will continue to be a servant to help, assist, and promote Bertie County.”

As his fellow board members looked on in surprised silence, Harrell concluded his prepared remarks.

“I’m certainly going to continue to serve the rest of my term with as much enthusiasm as I have,” Harrell said before taking his seat. “I want to thank the citizens of the county for giving me the privilege, the absolute privilege, in allowing me to serve them for the last 16 years, it’s been my pleasure.”

Chairman J. Wallace Perry made a light comment to break the silence among the group.

“You just floored me,” Perry said. “If I’d known it’d been that, I wouldn’t have recognized you (on the floor).”

Among the whispers of his colleagues, Harrell kept nodding that he was certain about his decision, would not entertain questions at this time and then proceeded to carry on with the day’s commissioner business.

Contacted Friday by the News-Herald, Harrell said he had spoken with the county Elections Board and found out there were some adjustments he had to make to his announcement.

“There’s a word that needs to be changed,” Harrell clarified, “the word ‘withdraw’.”

The News-Herald also spoke with county elections chairperson, Carol Woodard, who explained the policy of the state elections board.

“Mr. Harrell could only withdraw if he’d done so three days (Feb. 25) before the filing deadline of the 28th,” Woodard said. “(The letter) should have said that he is not actively pursuing the office, and is not actively seeking votes.”

Woodard further explained that Harrell’s name will be on the May primary ballot and if he is the top vote-getter he would then have to decline the position and the Bertie County Democratic Party Executive Committee would then select someone to replace him.

“I’m going to pull a certain amount of votes either way,” Harrell continued in the Friday conversation. “There are two candidates running for my seat and I would encourage people to line up behind the one they think is best suited for the county and support them.”

Harrell said he spent a great deal of time discussing his decision with his wife and he isn’t entertaining any ideas of changing his mind, no matter the primary outcome.

“One thing my wife made sure of when I made this decision is that I would not wake up the next day and regret this decision,” he said. “And I have not.”

“I’m not going into this as any type of strategy or anything to win this thing,” he went on to state. “Take it at face value: I do not intend to serve after November, but if I were to win the primary I would have to make another decision at that point.”

Harrell said he was proud of his 16 years on the board and what he and his fellow commissioners had accomplished. He was careful in assessing his legacy.

“I think what I said in my letter,” he reflected. “I tried to serve with integrity and moral soundness through the process. I served for 16 years and the accomplishments that we as a board made through my tenure were significant for Bertie County in my opinion.  I tried to serve the best I could for all the people of this county and secondly, we were able to accomplish with very little resources a lot of really positive things for the county.”

Harrell named off some of the improvements of which he’s most proud.

“The recreation complex, the new Health Department facilities, a new middle school, a new high school,” he recited. “Those are four or five that certainly come to mind.”

Harrell said no one saw this coming and that he only discussed it with his wife.

“I took off work early and my wife and I prayed about it and talked about it and prayed about it and I said when I get up the next morning and God has given me peace about it then that’s the decision I’m going to make,” he said. “And he did.”

Harrell says he’s not looking too far ahead now, but he would like to continue in service, in some form, in some way.

“I’ve got a servant heart, and I’m sure I’ll continue to find ways to serve,” he said in closing. “I certainly do that in and through my church now.  I’ve got a full-time job that I have to focus on right now so however I can serve the people of the county is what I’m sure I’m destined to do.”

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