Filing reopens

Published 6:19 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

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After a delay since December due to challenges to redrawn statewide maps, filing reopened on Feb. 24 for candidates in the upcoming primary election scheduled for May 17.

In the race for Northampton County Sheriff, interpretations of the county’s personnel policy called one potential candidate’s eligibility into question. According to the attorney representing the Northampton County Board of Commissioners, however, a county employee is able to run for the office of sheriff while remaining employed by the county.

Tony Burnette of Jackson, who currently serves as Northampton’s Emergency Management Coordinator, filed on Thursday to challenge incumbent sheriff Jack Smith of Gaston.

Article V, Section 6 of Northampton County’s personnel policy details what county employees are able to do in regards to political activities. Paragraph 6 of that section states that “no employee of the county may continue his/her employment with the county after filing a declaration of candidacy or after he/she is officially nominated by a political party for public office. This does not include Town Offices or the Board of Education. The elected Sheriff and the elected Register of Deeds are exceptions to this rule.”

The News Herald reached out to County Attorney Scott McKellar for clarification.

“Based upon my research and advice received from the UNC School of Government, Paragraph 6 of the policy is both unconstitutional and legally unenforceable,” McKellar stated.

He also noted that recommended updates to the county’s personnel policy are currently under review by county staff, part of a process which began last year when the county underwent a comprehensive pay study conducted by The MAPS Group, an independent third-party consulting firm.

Section 6 of the current personnel policy also references the Hatch Act as prohibiting candidacy in certain situations. But McKellar noted that “pursuant to the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012, Mr. Burnette is not precluded from running for office because his salary as an employee for Northampton County is not paid completely by federal funds.”

“It therefore is my opinion that Mr. Burnette can run for Sheriff while maintaining his current employment position. Should he be elected, he would need to resign his current position before taking office,” McKellar concluded.

As of the end of the first day of reopened filing, a number of candidates in the Roanoke-Chowan area submitted their names for local races.

In Northampton County, Caroline M. Long of Garysburg filed as a Republican candidate for District 5 on the county’s Board of Commissioners.

Other commissioner candidates who filed back in December include Richie Harding (Democrat) for District 5 and Melvetta Broadnax Taylor (Democrat) for District 4.

On Northampton County’s Board of Education, Rhonda Taylor and Marjorie Edwards, the Chair and Vice Chair, both filed for reelection. Also filing on Thursday was Shakila Evette Spruill of Rich Square. They join Lucy M. Edwards and Catherine B. Moody who both filed in December.

Franklin D. Williams and Clinton M. Williams both filed in December for a chance to fill the unexpired term of former school board member Josephine Dunn, who passed away unexpectedly in Feb. 2021.

Laquitta Green Cooper currently remains the only candidate for Northampton’s Clerk of Court. She is the incumbent, and a Democrat.

In Bertie County, the only new candidate who filed on Thursday was Greg Atkins, a Democrat, who decided to join the race for Sheriff. In December, Atkins had originally filed for another term as a county commissioner (District 2), but he formally withdrew his candidacy in that race this week.

Joining Atkins in the Democrat primary race for Bertie County Sheriff are Tyrone M. Ruffin of Aulander and Timothy Hardy of Windsor. They both filed in December.

Candidates who filed in December for Bertie’s Board of Commissioners include Michael White (District 2), Corey Ballance, Sr. (District 3), and incumbent Ronald (Ron) Roberson (District 5). All are Democrats.

Vasti F. James, the incumbent Clerk of Court, remains the sole candidate in that race as of Thursday evening.

In Hertford County, no one new added their name to the candidate list on Thursday. Candidates who previously filed include: Leroy Douglas (Board of Commissioners, District 1), Andre M. Lassiter (Board of Commissioners, District 2), Shirley Gatling Johnson (Clerk of Court), and Dexter A. Hayes (Sheriff). All are incumbent Democrats.

Voters in Ahoskie will also be able to vote for Town Council members in the upcoming primary. As of Feb. 24, the only candidate listed is Charles W. Freeman for Ward A.

Several candidates in Gates County filed as candidates on Thursday. Jonathan T. Craddock, a Democrat appointed last year to fill the unexpired term of former Eure District Commissioner Jonathan Jones, filed for his first. Ray Freeman also filed on Thursday for another term as the Commissioner to represent the Gates District.

Ray Campbell, the current Sheriff of Gates County, filed for another term in office this week. He is a Democrat.

Candidates seeking Gates County Commissioner seats who previously filed include Chris Odom (Republican, Eure District), Brian Keith Rountree (Democrat, Gates District), and incumbent Jack Owens (Democrat, Gatesville District).

Monica Horton-Wiggins, a Democrat, filed in December for Clerk of Court. As of Thursday, she is the only candidate in the race.

In the race for seats on the Gates County Board of Education, Ronnie L. Riddick submitted his name for the District 3 seat this week. Phil A. Kiver filed in December for a chance at the District 5 Board of Education seat.

In addition to local races, a number of regional and statewide races will also be included on the ballot in the upcoming primary.

Filing remains open until 12 noon on Friday, March 4.