ELIZABETHTOWN — The annual election of a new chairman and vice-chairman of the Bladen County Board of Commissioners on Monday showed just how divided the nine elected official are.
During the nomination process for chairman, Commissioner Daniel Dowless put the name of the current chairman, Charles Ray Peterson, on the table and Commissioner Michael Cogdell nominated current Vice Chairman Russell Priest. With no discussion, Priest was elected by a 6-3 vote.
For the vice-chairman post, Cogdell nominated Commissioner Arthur Bullock and Peterson nominated Commissioner Billy Ray Pait. Again without discussion, Bullock was elected by a 6-3 vote.
Priest said he appreciated the job done by Peterson over the past year.
“I just want to say thank-you to Charles Ray for the work as chairman this past year,” Priest said, “through the tax re-evaluation and jail project, he did a good job for us.”
Then the fun began.
A flurry of discussion arose over who would sit in what seat once Priest took the center spot and Bullock moved into the seat to Priest’s left — leaving Peterson asking where he was to sit.
“I know we’ve always moved the previous chairman to the seat at the right of the new chairman,” Peterson told the board, “which is why Jimmie (Smith) is there now.”
But Smith didn’t seem to be willing to move, and Commissioner Delilah Blanks felt the need to weigh in.
“You can just sit right here (in Bullock’s old seat),” she said. “It’s not the way we’ve always done it.”
Smith attempted to quiet the discussion be saying he would get things fixed right by the next meeting, but Blanks wasn’t in any mood to see him give in to Peterson.
“Don’t you feel obligated to accommodate him,” Blanks said. “The king has been removed.”
For the time being, despite additional snarky remarks back and forth, the meeting moved on.
During the public’s opportunity to address the board, Horace Munn of East Arcadia discussed the EMS response time to the eastern part of the county and said, as a first-responder, he was not happy with how things were being handled.
“It takes 45 minutes to get a transport to that area,” he said. “Your own commissioner, Dr. Blanks, recently had an accident and had to wait 45 minutes.
“This board recently passed a tax referendum, not for EMS or education, but to give a tax break to the rich,” he added. “But I’m telling you … black lives matter and I want to see something done to fix this.”
Blanks asked EMS Director Bradley Kinlaw to look into the matter.
“I’m asking you to look at the response time problem there and report back to us,” she said.
In another matter, the commissioners heard a request from the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office for two additional deputies to be assigned to Bladen Community College. The salaries would be paid for by the college over the next six months, while the Sheriff’s Office would provide two vehicles out of its spare fleet along with maintenance.
Peterson made a motion to approve the request, but “when the college runs out of funding for the deputies, the deputies will run out.” Dowless seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
In other action, the board:
— Approved funding for priority items like a survey along with heating and air at the Public Safety Training Center at White Lake.
— Approved the Bladen County Schools’ capital outlay request totaling $56,337.
— Approved an agreement with Piedmont-Triad Regional Council regarding a compensation study at a cost of $9,000.
— Recognized Martha White for her service to the Bladen County Board of Elections since 2003. White retired effective Dec. 1.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.