Should a political party decide New Hanover County’s next sheriff?
When Sheriff Sid Causey announced in February he would take early retirement from New Hanover County, it triggered a process to replace him that gives power not to the people, but to his political party.
“There is rationale behind the idea that since the sheriff was elected in a partisan election, then perhaps the party should have a strong voice in deciding who the successor would be,” said Democratic Party Chair Jim Morgan.
State law calls for commissioners in 55 of the state’s counties to select a successor if a sheriff leaves office mid-term. But in the other 45 counties, including Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender, state law says “if the sheriff were elected as a nominee of a political party before filling the vacancy, the Board of Commissioners shall consult the county executive committee of that political party… and shall elect the person recommended by the county executive committee of that party.”
But county Democratic Party Chair Jim Morgan admits the process to find a new sheriff is not ideal. “Our role is to simply name the successor to complete the term. And ideally, the people should select the sheriff, and they will at the general election.”
Morgan’s Republican counterpart, though, said it makes practical sense. “It would be too difficult and too time consuming to have a full election every time an elected official steps out of office,” Alex Dale said.
But some state lawmakers want some sort of change. Bills in the legislature would require the political party to submit three nominees to a county commission for a replacement sheriff. “I think it would be nice if the county commissioners had some discretion, because it would give some oversight to the process,” Dale said.
Current Chief Deputy Ed McMahon and former sheriff’s Major David Smithey are the two people under consideration to replace Sid Causey.
The Executive Committee of the New Hanover County Democratic Party meets tonight at 5:30 to interview and discuss the two candidates. The meeting at the El Berta Motel Assembly Room at 4504 Market Street is open to the public.
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