Sunday, June 26, 2022

Commissioners’ oaths delayed due to election protest

New Hanover County commissioners will have to wait a while longer before they can welcome their newest colleagues—and say goodbye to others.

New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. File photo.
New Hanover County Historic Courthouse. File photo.

The board’s traditional swearing-in ceremony, which this year will see Skip Watkins and Rob Zapple take the oaths of office as the county’s newest commissioners, will not take place as originally scheduled Monday.

A protest filed with the state board of elections—an appeal of a decision by the county board to dismiss it—is not expected to be heard before commissioners meet at 4 p.m. Because state law prohibits counties from certifying election results until after a protest has been decided, neither Watkins nor Zapple can be sworn in at Monday’s meeting, the agenda for which has been revised accordingly.

The agenda had listed the oaths of office along with a gift presentation for Commissioner Tom Wolfe, who did not seek election after being appointed to the board two years ago. The agenda did not mention a gift for Commissioner Brian Berger, who did not seek re-election and remains on probation after missing nearly all of this year’s meetings.

With the protest preventing Watkins and Zapple from being sworn in, however, statutes dictate that commissioners must remain in place until a decision, meaning Berger and Wolfe will remain on the board in the meantime. And that could affect the board’s selection of leadership for the coming year.

One thing that has not been changed on the agenda is the election of the board’s chairman and vice chairman—posts currently held by Woody White and Beth Dawson, respectively. Statutes require the board to elect those positions at its first meeting in December. With Berger and Wolfe still on the board, that means the current membership will get to decide the chairmanships that will lead the new board in 2015.

And that means Watkins and Zapple, elected to four-year terms, will not have a say in their board’s leadership.

The protest, from county voter John Christian Anderson, alleges inappropriate activity by precinct officials at the Williston Middle School polling location that he says should disqualify the vote totals from that precinct. The results from that precinct put Zapple over first runner-up Derrick Hickey by a margin of less than 1 percent.

A recount requested by Hickey confirmed Zapple as the winner of the second of the two seats available, with 30,154 votes over Hickey’s 29,968—a difference of 186 votes.

Other business on commissioners’ agenda Monday includes two public hearings: one on a request for a 195-foot-tall telecommunications tower in the CREST Research Park, the other a request to rezone nearly 7 acres at 5112 Carolina Beach Road to allow for a self-storage and recreational vehicle and boat trailer storage facility.

The full agenda can be viewed here. The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse.

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Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers

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