Democrats postpone Guilford Commissioner selectionBy Yasmine Regester / April 21, 2017
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A vote to fill the District 8 Guilford County Commission seat was postponed Monday night. Meeting attendees voiced concerns over needing more possible candidates from which to choose. Attendees also wanted more time to get to know the candidates interested in filling the unexpired term of former County Commissioner Ray Trapp (District 8).
Trapp resigned on April 3 to take the position of Director of External Affairs at N.C. A&T State University. His new position requires that he conducts university business with local, state and federal government agencies, thus creating a conflict of interest had he remained on the commission. Trapp won his first election to the County Commission in 2012 and was re-elected without opposition in 2016.
Selection of a new commissioner falls into the hands of the Guilford County Democratic Party (GCDP). According to state statutes, if an elected representative vacates his/her seat before the term expires, the representative’s party may select a replacement within 30 days of the resignation, which in this case is May 3.
District 8 represents 20 precincts with 44,578 registered voters.
During Monday night’s meeting, District 7 County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman made a motion to nominate former Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston, which was seconded by Goldie Wells, a former Greensboro City Council member.
“I’ve known him for a number of years, worked with him on both the County Commissioners and the NAACP. I’ve known him to be an effective leader in both organizations,” said Coleman.
Alston retired from the Guilford County Commission in 2012 after 20 years on the board. He was the first African American chairman of the board back in 2003. He has served as the state chair of the NAACP and is a co-founder of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro.
Alston has also been a controversial figure in Greensboro politics, having promoted a redistricting effort of the Greensboro City Council sponsored at the General Assembly by State Sen. Trudy Wade. Voting rights experts assert that Wade’s redistricting proposal would’ve ultimately isolated African American voters. The case was recently adjudicated in federal court which ruled against the redistricting primarily because the proponents of the measure failed to defend the action in court.
Alston said he was approached by community members to take the county commission position.
“When your community calls and wants you to do something important, you have to. I felt it was my duty to do so. Now it’s up to the voting delegates. I’ve made the effort if they will have me,” said Alston.
Janet Barnes, N.C. African American Caucus president, who says she supports Alston’s bid, opposed taking a vote on Alston on Monday night. She said there were not enough of the district’s voters present.
“This was not fair representation and this meeting was not properly publicized to District 8 voters. That is a violation of the party’s Plan of Organization. There are only about 30 people and not enough members of the executive committee present to vote,” said Barnes.
Guilford County voting statistics show that 66.2 percent of District 8 is comprised of Democrats, with 20,054 of those voters being African American. Each precinct has a captain or precinct leader that represents the precinct on the party’s executive committee. Out of 20 Guilford County precincts, only six are organized with precinct committees.
Ralph Rodland, GCDP chairman said that a notice was mailed out last week to registered Democrats in District 8. Another notice will now be sent announcing next week’s meeting.
“There is a sense of urgency to fill the spot,” said Rodland. “If we don’t submit a name, the chair of the County Commissioners can fill the spot without the party’s input.”
Voting delegate Chris Sgro, who serves as executive director of Equality N.C. moved to adjourn the meeting until April 26 because he felt that there was not enough public notice of the meeting. He also said he would nominate local community organizer, April Parker.
“There’s potentially a qualified LGBT person of color for this job. I think with very little time for consideration, marginalized communities need another week to think about a candidate,” said Sgro, who in 2016, was selected by Democrats in Guilford County, under similarly controversial circumstances, to fill a vacancy in District 58 of the North Carolina House of Representatives due to the death of Rep. Ralph C. Johnson.
To be considered for the vacant seat, candidates can self-nominate or be nominated by someone. The candidate must reside in District 8. The nominator does not have to live in the district to nominate a candidate. A voter must be a precinct leader (committee member) in order to cast a ballot. Among their duties, precinct leaders serve as delegates to the county convention, submit resolutions, and are eligible to vote for the leadership of the party.
Once all nominations are made, then the nomination process is closed and nominees are given an opportunity to speak for three minutes. If there is only one nominee, the voting body can do a voice vote. If there is more than one nominee, then the vote goes to a ballot.
Some attendees disagreed with postponing the vote because that leaves District 8 without representation on the County Commissioners during budget season.
“I don’t see a reason to delay a meeting when we have a candidate here with the experience and willing to step up,” said District 8 resident, Monica Walker.
The next GCDP meeting will be April 26, 6 p.m., at 2300 West Meadowview Road, Suite 110.