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State law defies Republican claims

GATESVILLE – Despite clear language contained in state law, there appears to be some confusion on the part of the Gates County Republican Party over which political party has the authority to select an individual to fill a pending unexpired term on the county’s Board of Commissioners.

In late July, Commissioner Jonathan Jones, who represents the Eure district on the board, announced plans to resign his seat.

Jonathan Jones still plans to resign his seat on the Gates County Board of Commissioners. File Photo

In a video on his Commissioner Facebook page, Jones stated that due to some ongoing health concerns and the importance of spending time with his young daughters and family, he would be relinquishing his seat.

As of Monday of this week, Jones had yet to submit his resignation in writing to Dr. Althea Riddick, chair of the county commissioners. When that occurs, it officially starts the process of selecting an individual that will fill out his unexpired term (which ends in early December of next year).

North Carolina General Statute 153A-27 outlines how a vacancy on a county board of commissioners is handled.

Since Jones was elected as a Democrat in 2018, his board colleagues will consult with the executive committee of the Gates County Democratic Party. Any person considered to replace Jones on the board is required to be a registered member of the Democratic Party and must also have a permanent residence within the Eure district.

Upon the county’s Democratic Party’s executive committee selecting a person to fill Jones’s seat, that name is presented to the county commissioners. Per the state statute, the four remaining commissioners are not bound by the committee’s recommendation since they have the final decision in appointing the replacement.

Jones, however, has just recently switched political parties. He told the Gates County Index on Monday of this week that he is now a member of the Republican Party. Jones said he submitted an application on July 30, requesting a change from a registered Democrat to a registered Republican. He further stated that the application was processed on Aug. 10 and the change in political affiliation became effective on that date.

According to information sent to this newspaper in an Aug. 14 email, Thomas Hill, Chair of the Gates County Republican Party, said they were aware of Jones’s intentions to resign.

“Because he is a registered republican, the seat he currently holds must be maintained as a republican,” Hill stated in the email.

Hill added that the Gates County Republican Party met, in an open session, on Aug. 12 at which time a nomination from the Eure Precinct was made to submit the name of Christopher Reeves Odom as the party’s candidate of choice to fill Jones’s remaining term on the board.

“Chris Odom has been active in our party for some time and has served in several capacities,” Hill said in his email. “In the election season of 2020, Christopher Odom was deputized as a poll observer and a solidified Trump supporter, giving his time, treasure, and talents to the local GOP. He has been very active in our community and served for the benefit of our county.”

Hill added that during this year’s Gates County Republican Convention, Odom had officially announced his candidacy for county commissioner in 2022.

According to North Carolina General Statutes, it appears that Odom will have to wait until next year to have the opportunity to serve as a commissioner, and that would be by the public’s majority vote in the 2022 General Election.

In an email sent Aug. 13 from this newspaper to Patrick Gannon, Public Information Director at the North Carolina Board of Elections, in regards to which political party has the authority to recommend Jones’s replacement on the board, he said the state statutes hold the answer.

“It would be the political party who nominated him in the first place, so Democratic,” Gannon stated in an emailed reply.

Gannon cited NCGS 153A-27(c), which states: To be eligible for appointment to fill a vacancy, a person must (i) be a member of the same political party as the member being replaced, if that member was elected as the nominee of a political party, and (ii) be a resident of the same district as the member being replaced, if the county is divided into electoral districts.

Thusly, Jones was elected as a Democrat and, according to state law, is required to be replaced by a member of that same political party if, for any reason, he does not complete his elected term of office.

When asked to share the NC General Statute that allows the Executive Committee of the Gates County Republican Party to name a replacement for Jones, Hill responded by saying, “Let’s leave law issues to the lawyers and judges. I am well prepared for court if need be. If you refuse to print the story, that is your business, my job is to inform. God bless you all.”

Hill also accused the Gates County Index of publishing a story, “about a republican and gave credit to the Democratic Party without looking up his [Jones] voter history.”

“You sir have done this, not the republicans,” Hill said, accusing the newspaper of publishing incorrect information.

As noted earlier in this story, Jones’s application to switch political parties was submitted on July 30, one day after the Gates County Index published the story regarding his intentions to resign. At that time he was still officially a member of the Democratic Party.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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