DOBSON — As the Surry County Democratic Party prepares for its annual convention, the party members also have another issue to focus on — recommending an appointment to replace Sheriff Graham Atkinson.
Atkinson, who has been sheriff since 2006, announced his retirement Monday to take a governor-appointed position as a parole commissioner.
The Democratic Party’s executive committee already had a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night. As the precinct chairs, vice chairs and elected officials who are considered ex-officio voting members gathered at the Surry County Courthouse, there were a lot of hugs, congratulations and tears shared with Atkinson, who attended to address the group.
Atkinson explained how the offer from Governor Roy Cooper came as a surprise to him when he got the call from the governor himself last Wednesday on his cell phone, and fought back tears as he shared that the decision to leave the sheriff’s office was not an easy one.
In the end, after talking with family and his wife Melissa, he said his preacher’s sermon Sunday touched home as she introduced the story in Genesis of Abraham and Sarah and God’s call to them to leave their comfortable home to do more. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I wonder who that sermon’s for today,’” he said.
He thanked the party members for their years of support, beginning when he was 30 and decided after years of serving as the county’s DARE instructor to run for a seat on the Surry County Board of Elections. In June, he would have been with the sheriff’s office for 32 years.
On two occasions during his emotional address to those attending, Atkinson laughed off tears jokingly blaming them on Wake Forest not making it into the NCAA tournament.
John Wiles, chairman of the Surry County Democratic Party, led the party officials through a discussion of the process for filling the sheriff’s role. Since Atkinson is a Democrat, it is up to the county’s party to provide the name of his successor for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2018, to the Surry County Board of Commissioners for formal appointment.
As of Tuesday, there was some confusion as to how long the party had to provide that name, but clarification from County Attorney Ed Woltz was provided to Wiles Wednesday. The 30-day window the party has to make the decision will not begin until Atkinson’s seat is formally vacated on April 29, Wiles said Thursday.
He said those Democrats interested in being considered for the position should reach out, sooner than later, to the party. “We always encourage active Democrats in Surry County to be in contact with their precinct chair or one of the officers of the executive committee. Since we just got finished with precinct organization, some people may not know who their precinct chair is; they are welcome to contact me,” Wiles said.
Already some interested candidates had come forward before Tuesday’s meeting, but Wiles did not elaborate on those candidates’ names.
The party will hold its annual convention April 1 at the Surry County Courthouse at 10 a.m. The convention is open to all registered Democrats in the county, but only those elected as voting delegates in their precincts will be able to vote during the convention.
No decisions on the matter of the sheriff’s position will be made at the convention, Wiles said. But anyone interested in being considered for sheriff can contact Wiles and he or she will be afforded time to speak to the group at the convention.
The rest of the convention’s time will be reserved for the election of countywide party officers, which will include a new chairman, since Wiles is stepping out of that role, as well as handling any other regular business.
Once the new officers are elected, Wiles expected a short executive committee meeting will be scheduled shortly after that to define a process on how to select the new sheriff for recommendation to the commissioners.
For candidates interested in being considered for the sheriff’s position, Wiles can be reached at 336-755-6689.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.