Rowland commissioners, attorney get testy on mayor replacement

By Terri Ferguson Smith -

ROWLAND — The unexpected resignation of Mayor James Hampton has left town commissioners wondering about the necessity of scheduling a special election because a General Election will be held in November.

The commissioners delayed taking any action on the issue on Tuesday, doing so after a sometimes testy back-and-forth with the town’s attorney.

Town Attorney Robert Price advised the commissioners that, according to the town’s charter and state law, they must hold a special election to fill Hampton’s unexpired term. Hampton resigned March 24 after serving 14 months of a two-year term.

David Townsend, town clerk, said he has a meeting scheduled for today with G.L. Pridgen, supervisor of the Robeson County Board of Elections, during which they will speak with state officials to determine the appropriate course of action.

Townsend said there is a concern that there isn’t enough time to set a special election date and give proper public notice. Then there is the issue of candidates filing to run for mayor and the cost to the town of holding a special election.

The earliest anyone can file as candidates for mayor or the two commission seats that will be on the November general election ballot is July 7. If candidates for mayor file for the special election, they then will have to pay filing fees a second time for the general election, Mayor Pro Tem M.C. Shooter said.

He and other commissioners were not pleased with the prospect of scheduling a special election and then having the general election.

Quoting a state election law, Shooter said, “The municipality or any special district shall have the authority to do it. It doesn’t say they must do it. It says they shall have the authority to do it.”

“But your town charter says, ‘You shall do it,’” Price said.

“Our town charter says a lot of things that aren’t adhered to, as you well know,” Shooter said.

“It should be adhered to,” Price said. “It’s state law.”

Price said he would be very surprised if state elections officials tell the town it can forego a special election.

“You don’t have an exception where the Board of Elections says, ‘Well, we’re not going to do it.’ Your charter says you have to do it and the state statute stands behind that charter.”

Commissioners Paul Hunt and Allen Jean Love spoke of a previous mayoral vacancy during which the town did not call a special election but did not get into trouble for it.

Price said that is not a reason to violate state law; moreover, the public wouldn’t like that.

“The public doesn’t care,” Love said.

“You don’t know that,” Price said.

“I can tell you. I’m a community person. Whatever we do is fine with them,” Love said.

“I’m not comfortable with the town ignoring state law,” Price said.

Shooter made a motion to wait on making a decision until the town clerk talks with county and state election boards. The commissioners unanimously approved his motion.

Shooter’s and Hunt’s seats are up for election this November.

By Terri Ferguson Smith

Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.

Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.

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