Sunday, March 3, 2024

Longtime Pender commissioner outvoted by challenger in primaries

The Pender County Board of Elections oversees voter registration, the electoral process and candidate filing. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)
Jerry Groves

PENDER COUNTY — After leading behind the dais for nearly two decades, George Brown will be replaced on the Pender County Board of Commissioners this November. His Republican challenger Jerry Groves took home almost double the votes in Tuesday’s primary election for the district 3 seat. 

District 3 includes the unincorporated communities of Long Creek, parts of Rocky Point, Grady and Cape Fear voting precincts.

“It’s hard to get good people to run,” Brown said. “I left it up to the voters to decide whether they wanted me to come back or go a different direction; gotta go with what the majority says.”

READ MORE: Pender county candidate, resident at odds over political signage, head to court

“I want to thank commissioner Brown for his work on the board,” Groves said. “I was not surprised [at the outcome]. I have been all over the county talking to citizens.”

Groves is a shoo-in on the board in the general election, as there is not a Democratic candidate opposing him. He took the lead against Brown despite recent allegations of defacing a sign — a class 3 misdemeanor — that encouraged voters not to vote for Groves. He will head to court June 29 over the criminal violation, sought by resident Ken Ramsey.

Both district 3 candidates ran as Republicans, with Groves winning 3,558 votes, or 63.3%, and Brown earning 2,063, or 36.7%. According to the N.C. Board of Elections data, Groves outnumbered Brown in every voting location.

George Brown

The 16-year commissioner said he is willing to assist Groves in any capacity, as he knows it’s not only a tough job but one that comes with a steep learning curve.

“People have no idea who have never served public office,” Brown said. “It’s not just about ethics. It’s about the law. A lot of things you think you’ll do or be able to do, and find out there are limitations.”

Groves said his number one concern will be analyzing the budget to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely. He also plans to make sure residents impacted by flooding have been treated fairly.

“I have a plan to help the elderly stay in their homes and not be stressed paying taxes,” Groves said. “Internet, water and sewer will be a priority also; it must keep up with housing.”

Brown said the commissioners have much less control over the budget than the public may realize because state law obligates funding of certain line items. He said the most difficult task for him was setting tax rates.

“You don’t want to increase taxes or create a burden for people,” he said. “But at the same time, there are certain functions of government and services you gotta pay for, so you try to be a good steward with the money and allocate as practically and fairly as possible. It’s important people understand you’re not just wasting money.”

He admitted to even losing friendships over his decisions. Yet, prioritizing the needs of the whole community over individuals is what being a civil servant is about.

Another aspect of the job is often acting as a “complaint department,” Brown said, as well as a resource for residents. “They let you know their concerns,” he added. “We’re not going to know about some things unless it’s communicated.”

A Pender County native, Brown said he’s looking forward to not “being on call 24/7” and spending more time with his family. He also continues to work his full-time job as an engineering support operator at GE.

Brown confirmed he will not seek another term in the future.

“I’m here if people need me for anything,” he said. “I’m not withdrawing from society. When you’re a commissioner and been in office for a while, the longer you’ve been in there, the wiser you become and more knowledgeable about things you become.”

He’s willing to share that expertise with Groves as he transitions out of the position.

“I really enjoyed my tenure as a county commissioner and appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Pender County,” Brown said. “I love my county and wish our good commissioner from Rocky Point all the best. I congratulate him and let him know I am a resource if there’s anything he needs from me.”

In other Pender County commissioner districts, Jimmy Tate barely outdid opponent Joe Cina with 53.13% of the votes for district 1, which serves north Hampstead, Topsail Beach and Surf City. Cina earned 2,750 votes or 46.8%. Current commissioner and vice-chair David Williams did not seek re-election.

Republican Wendy Fletcher-Hardee will represent District 2, covering south Hampstead and Scotts Hill. Unaffiliated candidate Matt Cisneros did not complete his required signatures in time, so Fletcher-Hardee is running unopposed on the November ballot. Commissioner chair David Piepmeyer did not seek re-election.

Districts 4 and 5 were not up for re-election this term and will continue to be represented by sitting commissioners Jackie Newton and Fred McCoy, respectively. District 4 serves Atkinson, Currie, Penderlea, Watha and Willard while District 5 covers Burgaw, St. Helena and Maple Hill. Both districts will have the opportunity for campaigning in the 2024 election.

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