This month has been a roller coaster of emotions for my family and me. A few weeks ago, I was running unopposed for Mayor of the Town of Walnut Cove—a town I love and have served for years. I was optimistic about the positive impact I could have on our town and had a detailed plan to help “restore the pride”. I have served the town in areas big and small for years, and was eager to bring my skills and vision to a new role.
Next, there is a knock on the door while I was away. My wife is told by the Director of the Board of Elections for the county that someone has suddenly “discovered”—after all the years of me voting and running for positions in the town—that a satellite image shows that while most of my property is within city limits, my bedroom is actually several feet outside of the town line. Therefore, based on an obscure NC statute, I may not be able to run for mayor. Imagine that…..after being assigned as a town voter for years, after voting in town elections for years, after the Board of Elections twice has evaluated my eligibility to run for office in town and certified that I was eligible, after receiving town services since moving to Walnut Cove…..six days before an election, someone has a “Eureka” moment. My house didn’t move, the town line didn’t move, we didn’t move, and the law didn’t change… but somehow even though none of the variables changed, they added up differently.
Reminds me of a song from the 1990’s—“Things that make you go hmmm.” No due process as required by law, no hearing, no sworn affidavit from a challenger as required by law. My wife and I were just unceremoniously removed from the voting register and the commissioner that “discovered” this issue started to spread the word that I was out of the race. It’s almost seems that if you know the right people, laws and procedures don’t matter, and a person can become accuser, judge, jury and executioner in one.
Despite my repeated requests for clarity on what gave the Board of Elections the authority to make this decision just days before an election, I have still received no response. No response from the county’s lawyer, no response from the Director of the Board of Elections, no response from the Chairman of the Board of Elections. Under NC GS 163-294.2. Notice of candidacy and filing fee in nonpartisan municipal elections, the Board of Elections is required to validate the eligibility of a candidate within 10 days of his/her filing. This was done TWICE by the Board of Elections—once in 2015 when I ran for Commissioner in Walnut Cove, and once in 2017 when I filed to run for Mayor. Based on their validation, I spent money and time on my campaigns and on developing detailed plans for proactive economic development for my town.
Further, under NC GS 163-85. Challenge procedure other than on day of primary or election. (a). No such challenge may be made after the twenty-fifth day before each primary, general, or special election. The Board of Elections ignored that General Statute as well. Under the same General Statute, part (d) Preliminary Hearing. – When a challenge is made, the county board of election shall schedule a preliminary hearing on the challenge, and shall take such testimony under oath and receive such other evidence proffered by the challenger as may be offered. The burden of proof shall be on the challenger, and if no testimony is presented, the board shall dismiss the challenge. No hearing was set…..no notice, no explanation—just a hope I would go away quietly and understand who’s in charge and that I would learn my place.
Because I know the Board of Elections would hide behind Sovereign Immunity if I sought justified damages, I have not yet brought a lawsuit. Instead, I asked the Board of Elections for just one thing—a simple apology. The response from the Chairman of the County Board of Elections: “We’ll discuss it and get back to you”. That was now more than two weeks ago. Their silence is deafening. They achieved the results they wanted. Whether incompetence or corruption, it’s shameful.
It has been revealed that the last-minute “revelation” was made to the Board of Elections by Walnut Cove Commissioner Sharon Conaway. Her legacy of destruction to our town was validated when in a stroke of poetic justice, the last-minute disorder that her actions brought about led to her losing her position, even though she was an eight-year incumbent running unopposed. Reminds me of a more recent song “What comes around, goes around”.
I am very proud that my town took this attempt to bring disorder and disunity and turned it instead into a historic election which rewarded a long serving and dedicated town asset with the opportunity to be Mayor. Charles Mitchell is a friend and I support the new Mayor and Board of Commissioners, and as has always been the case, I will do all I can to help my town in any way I can.
Walnut Cove, NC