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Bladen County Board of Commissioners battle over legal matter

By Charlotte Smith

The Bladen County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting on Wednesday, afternoon at 4:30 in Elizabethtown.  As soon as the meeting was called to order, the pledges and prayer were conducted and the board called for a closed session in accordance with NCHS 143-318.11 (a)(3) Attorney/Client Privilege.

After the closed session the commissioners let it be known they were debating about paying for the defense of two Bladen County Board of Election members. The board members could be heard passionately arguing over the issue behind closed doors.

While the commissioners deliberated there were three Democrats in the audience. Rev. Larry Hayes, the Bladen County Democratic Party Chairman said he didn’t know what the meeting was about when asked by a BladenOnline staff member.

Mr. Dwight Sheppard explained, “We know what the meeting is about, but we can not say at this time.” Mr. Sheppard is Mrs. Patsy Sheppard’s husband.

There were two republicans in attendance as well, but they did not talk about the reason for the meeting, and one left shortly after closed session started.

The suspicion was the commissioner’s meeting was about the Bladen County Board of Elections members who have had complaints filed against them.

The Bladen County Republican chairman, Wayne Schaeffer, filed a formal complaint with the North Carolina Board of Elections. He stated issues with Bladen County Board of Election’s members Patricia Sheppard and Louella Thompson; both serve as Democratic board members. In his complaints he states the two have violated ethics rules governing local boards of elections.

The commissioners came out of closed session around 5:20. Commissioner David R. Gooden made a motion to come out of closed session the board approved the motion. Then Commissioner Gooden moved that the “Bladen County Board of Commissioners do not hire a lawyer for the board of elections.” Commissioner Daniel R. Dowless made the second.

Commissioner Dr. Opheila Munn-Goins made remarks about the complaint citing North Carolina statute 160A-167 which states, “board may provide for the defense of any civil or criminal action… allegedly made, in the scope and course of his employment or duty as an employee…”

Dr. Munn-Goins pointed out part of the complaint against the county elections board members claim to have been done during board meetings.

Dr. Munn-Goins, “She should be represented by a county attorney.”

Commissioner Michael Cogdell stated, “I hope we are not setting a precedent, that we will not support elected officials.”

The Bladen County Board of Elections members are not elected officials, but are appointed, Mr. Michael Aycock stated after Commissioner Cogdell’s remarks.

Ms. Ashley Trivette stated she needed to see the report of the allegations to verify that the board of elections representative(s) did make remarks while on duty serving in an official capacity.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners asked if there was any further discussion. There was none, so he called for the vote.

The motion carried.

Commissioners Britt, Dowless, Gooden, Peterson and Priest voted in favor of the motion.

Commissioners Bullock, Cogdell and Munn-Goins voted against the motion.

Commissioner Trivette did not vote, but abstained and continued to look for the claim.

After the vote the commissioners adjourned. Mr. Sheppard stood with a smile and said, “Well there will be a law suit now.”

Mr. Sheppard sued Bladen Community College in years past and this evening repeatedly talked of another law suit coming soon after the commissioners meeting did not end in his wife’s favor.

North Carolina State Board of Elections will hear the Bladen County complaint case on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Related articles:

State board dismisses complaints against Bladen County Board of Elections members
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