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Accusations leveled as new Bertie Commissioner is chosen

WINDSOR – The appointment of Ron Roberson as Bertie County’s newest Commissioner here Monday evening prompted one veteran board member to accuse their colleagues of collusion.

That accusation, made by Ronald “Ron” Wesson, came after the remaining commissioners – John Trent, Tammy Lee and Greg Atkins – voted for Roberson to replace Ernestine Byrd Bazemore on the board. Bazemore vacated the final two years on her current term after she won a seat on the North Carolina Senate during November’s General Election.

Wesson said the Bertie County Democratic Party, who was responsible under state law for recommending an individual to fill Bazemore’s unexpired term, chose performed their due diligence and selected James Lee as their nominee.

Wesley Dudley, chairman of the Bertie County Democratic Party, presented James Lee as their nominee at the Dec. 7 meeting of the commissioners. It was duly noted then that the four seated commissioners had the right to accept or reject the party’s nominee.

However, Wesson, at this week’s regularly scheduled meeting, said his three colleagues had their minds made up that Roberson was favored even before the Democratic Party made their recommendation last month.

At Monday’s meeting, Trent nominated Roberson while Wesson put forth the name of James Lee. But before the vote was taken, Wesson called for discussion.

Reading from a prepared statement, Wesson said, “The citizens of this county have a right to know that this vote that we’re about to take has been rigged from the very start. These three commissioners, Mr. Trent, Mrs. Lee and Mr. Atkins communicated together and decided to elect Mr. Roberson prior to the [Bertie] Democratic Party having a chance to interview, and recommend a candidate from their party as required by our [state] General Statutes.”

In his remarks, Wesson alleged that Trent approached [Tammy] Lee and she agreed to support Roberson. Wesson further alleged that Trent and Mrs. Lee then met with Atkins and sought his support for Roberson.

“Mr. Roberson called me directly and asked if I would support him,” Wesson said. “I told him clearly that I would support the nominee of the Democratic Party and if that turned out to be him, I would support that decision. He thanked me and told me he already had the support of the other commissioners.

“I then called Commissioner Atkins and asked if that was true and Mr. Atkins confirmed that Mr. Trent had first gone to Mrs. Lee and they both encouraged him to support Mr. Roberson,” Wesson continued, adding that Atkins stated at that time he had not made up his mind on which candidate to support.

Wesson said the Bertie Democratic Party, “did things the right way” by soliciting candidates interested in filling the vacancy and interviewing each candidate. James Lee, Roberson, Carl Bond, and Michael Williams were those candidates. At the December meeting, Dudley noted that Lee received over 76 percent of the vote taken among party officials.

“But the fix was already in; these [three] commissioners in essence said to hell with the will of the citizens and made their decision prior to [the process] starting,” Wesson remarked.

“I don’t appreciate the word rigged,” said Commissioner Lee. “This was not rigged. Yes, I was called and I told Mr. Trent that I hadn’t made up my mind. But after talking to others, including my husband who holds Ron Roberson in high regard, and after talking to Mr. Roberson himself, I told him he had my support.”

“Rigged is the correct word, and a better word might even be collusion,” Wesson said. “The General Statute advises us that we should hear the recommendation [of the political party’s leadership]. You just confirmed that ya’ll made your decision prior to the Democratic Party even being notified to give us a recommendation.

“What did they go through this process for if you’re not going to even listen to them before you make up your mind,” Wesson asked his board colleagues.

Mrs. Lee stated that she was contacted by Trent about this issue.

“He didn’t ask me to support Mr. Roberson; he said that he was supporting him,” she noted.

“So, it was only the three of you talking; I’m a commissioner too; ya’ll never came to me,” Wesson said.

“I’m sorry you feel the way you feel,” Mrs. Lee told Wesson.

“No, I’m sorry you feel the way you do, to make a decision prior to listening to the Democratic Party and accepting their recommendation,” Wesson concluded.

In the ensuing vote, Mrs. Lee, Trent and Atkins voiced their vote for Roberson while Wesson cast a no vote.

It was later discussed that Roberson will be sworn in at the board’s next scheduled meeting on Jan. 20.

Prior to the discussion about filling the vacant seat, the commissioners heard from several county citizens during public comments, each submitted electronically and read into the record by interim board clerk Courtney Ward.

Dudley was joined by James Pugh, Pastor Samuel Shaw, and John Davis in voicing their support, by name, for James Lee.

“We understand that the selection process ends with your [commissioners] decision,” stated Dudley. “We also acknowledge that you represent the citizens of Bertie County and serve as the voice of the people. We hope that you acknowledge that the voice of the people have spoken fairly, Democratically, and loudly.”

In his remarks, Pugh stressed that, “James Lee was the strong choice of Democratic Party leadership” and “to select any other candidate would be wrong.”

Shaw said James Lee is “a person of great integrity and an awesome team player.”

Davis noted that the interview process was the same for each of the four candidates expressing an interest in filling Bazemore’s unexpired term, and that the leadership of each voting precinct canvassed Bertie Democrats to solicit their input, adding that 76 percent of county’s Democratic leadership voted for James Lee.

Also addressing the board during public comments was Dr. K. Barber, saying that, “any office of government that is fair and just should automatically govern according to the will of the people’s majority when logical and reasonable. If any elected official fails to this….they are saying to the people that my personal agenda is more important than the people’s agenda.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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