Voting study committee to begin work

Published 9:20 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A committee that will study a change in the way county commissioners are elected will begin its work later this month following the appointment of its members Monday by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
The 12-member committee will meet for the first time at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, to start its discussions on whether to end the so-called “limited voting” method of electing county leaders, its chairman, Commissioner Gary Brinn, told his fellow commissioners.
Those appointed to the committee were Cindy Baldwin, Michael Bilbro, Greg Dority, Ed Hamrick, Charles Hickman, Betty Murphy, Anthony Northern, Sylvester Riddick and Wayland Whitley.
All were appointed unanimously be the commissioners, except Dority and Hamrick, who were opposed by Commissioner Hood Richardson.
They will be joined on the panel by Brinn and Commissioners Ed Booth and Stan Deatherage.
The commissioners were scheduled to appoint the study committee in January but that action was delayed after Brinn and other commissioners expressed concerns that those whose names had been put forward were not representative of the county.
Saying he was seeking a “more open-minded committee,” Brinn asked that the appointments be delayed.
Other commissioners said last month that the panel needed more women and more young members.
On Monday, board Chairman Jerry Langley said the appointments achieved those goals.
“We wanted to make sure all the demographics were covered,” he said. “We wanted it to look like Beaufort County.”
This is the third time county leaders have studied limited voting. Reports were compiled in 2003 and 2007 on the system of electing members of the county board, but no action to change the system followed the reports.
Some county leaders have said privately that although there is support on the board for the creation of a committee, there may not be enough support among its members to abandon “limited voting.”
Beaufort County voters have used “limited voting” to elect commissioners following a 1991 court order from a federal judge enforcing an agreement between county leaders and a group of black residents over changes to the system of electing county commissioners.
The election in November of Brinn and Robert Belcher and re-election of Langley and Richardson created a board of county leaders comprised exclusively of Washington residents or those who live in the Washington area.
That has led to growing dissatisfaction among voters who live in Aurora, Bath, Belhaven, Chocowinity and other parts of the county who believe their vote doesn’t count and increased calls among those voters for a change.
All commissioners attended the meeting.

Other business before the county board
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners took action on several items on its agenda at the board meeting Monday. In other action, the board:

  • Voted unanimously to approve a bid of $20,000 from William F. Sheppard to buy county-owned property at 230 Pantego St. in Belhaven and a bid of $1,200 to buy county-owned property at 2740 Woodstock Road in Belhaven.
  • Voted 6-1 to approve $10,369.64 in travel expenses with Commissioner Hood Richardson casting the sole dissenting vote.
  • Voted unanimously to approve fees for the Beaufort County Health Department for tobacco cessation counseling of $14 for up to 10 minutes and $25 for over 10 minutes.
  • Made the following appointments: Voted 4-3 to appoint Richardson and Mark Hamlin as ex officio members of the Beaufort County Economic Development Advisory Board with Commissioners Robert Belcher, Ed Booth and Stan Deatherage casting dissenting votes; Appointed Michael Farschon as a trustee for the N.C. Fireman’s Relief Fund representing the Sidney Volunteer Fire Department; appointed Robert Cayton to the Aurora/Richland Township Fire and Rescue Tax Advisory Board; appointed Todd Taylor, chief animal control officer, as the county’s animal cruelty investigator and to the disposition of dead domesticated animals.
  • Voted unanimously to authorize a grant application to the N.C. Department of Commerce to create Agrarian Growth Zone in part of Beaufort County.
  • Voted 6-1 to request the county’s presiding Superior Court Judge to allow three commissioners and the county manager or his designee to accompany the Grand Jury on its annual tour of the county jail. Commissioner Jerry Langley cast the sole dissenting vote.
  • Voted unanimously to name an access road created by the construction of the U.S. Highway 17 By-Pass as Ronan Circle.