Five people applied for the Craven County Board of Commissioners District 3 seat left open with the death of Johnnie Sampson Jr. in early November, including one who was endorsed by the Craven County Democratic Party.
Casting aside that endorsement, the Board of Commissioners, which has five Republicans, one Democrat, and Sampson’s vacant seat, went with someone else.
The board chose Craven County School Board Member Beatrice Riggs Smith, who will be sworn in at the first Board of Commissioners meeting in January.
Smith is a lifelong educator and was the first Black school principal in post-segregation Craven County. When she takes the oath in January, she will become the first Black woman on the board.
The board chose Smith over Brenda George, a New Bern lawyer who was endorsed by the Craven County Democratic Party.
Others vying for the vacant seat were Barbara Sampson, Janice Trice, and Gregory Singleton.
Sampson is an Air Force veteran and a member of the New Bern Board of Adjustment. Trice had been a lab tech for Weyerhaeuser. Singleton is project manager for the Craven Pamlico Re-Entry Council.
Response to the selection of Smith has been positive.
School Board Member Kim Rice Smith said this on her Facebook wall: “We use the word ‘love’ loosely, but I seriously love this woman. She is honest, smart, wise, compassionate, and tough as nails when she needs to be! Bea will be a wonderful asset to the Craven County Board of Commissioners and will leave a void on ours. I wish her so much joy and success in her work ahead!”
The Craven County Democratic Party congratulated Beatrice Smith on its Facebook page.
There’s nothing that says the Board of Commissioners has to go with the local political party’s endorsement.
All the law says is that they have to appoint a qualified person within 60 days of the vacancy who is a resident of the district and is a member of the same political party (see below for details).
The Craven County Democratic Party will have another chance to influence an appointment, this time to find Smith’s replacement on the school board.
Here is the law (relevant portions shown in bold type):
§ 153A-27. Vacancies on the board of commissioners.
(a) If a vacancy occurs on the board of commissioners, the remaining members of the board shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy. If the number of vacancies on the board is such that a quorum of the board cannot be obtained, the chairman of the board shall appoint enough members to make up a quorum, and the board shall then proceed to fill the remaining vacancies. If the number of vacancies on the board is such that a quorum of the board cannot be obtained and the office of chairman is vacant, the clerk of superior court of the county shall fill the vacancies upon the request of any remaining member of the board or upon the petition of any five registered voters of the county. If for any other reason the remaining members of the board do not fill a vacancy within 60 days after the day the vacancy occurs, the clerk shall immediately report the vacancy to the clerk of superior court of the county. The clerk of superior court shall, within 10 days after the day the vacancy is reported to him, fill the vacancy.
(b) If the member being replaced was serving a two-year term, or if the member was serving a four-year term and the vacancy occurs later than 60 days before the general election for county commissioner held after the first two years of the term, the appointment to fill the vacancy is for the remainder of the unexpired term. Otherwise, the term of the person appointed to fill the vacancy extends to the first Monday in December next following the first general election for county commissioner held more than 60 days after the day the vacancy occurs; at that general election, a person shall be elected to the seat vacated, either to the remainder of the unexpired term or, if the term has expired, to a full term.
(c) 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. The board of commissioners or the clerk of superior court, as the case may be, shall consult the county executive committee of the appropriate political party before filling a vacancy, but neither the board nor the clerk of the superior court is bound by the committee’s recommendation. (Code, s. 719; 1895, c. 135, s. 7; Rev., s. 1314; 1909, c. 490, s. 1; C.S., s. 1294; 1959, c. 1325; 1965, cc. 239, 382; 1967, cc. 7, 424, 439, 1022; 1969, cc. 82, 222; 1971, c. 743, s. 1; 1973, c. 822, s. 1; 1985, c. 563, ss. 7.3, 7.4; 2017-2, s. 1.)