Thursday night’s move by Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran declining the appointment to the Surry County Board of Commissioners has thrown a monkey wrench into their plans, leaving the four remaining commissioners scratching their heads to find a replacement for Garry Scearce, who died late last month following a battle with cancer.
Contacted Friday, Commissioner Paul Johnson confirmed that they were counting on Cochran to fill the seat, adding that her decision to not accept the appointment means they will be going back to the drawing board.
“We don’t have anyone in mind right now,” Johnson confirmed.
Which means the next step will be for the four remaining board members to sit down with the executive committee of the county Republican Party to discuss the empty seat.
According to state law, the board has 90 days from the date of Scearce’s death to find a replacement, or the county Clerk of Court will make the appointment.
While state law says that the remaining commissioners may consult with the Republican executive committee, they are not legally bound to follow their advice.
The law reads that, “the county executive committee of the appropriate political party may be consulted in filling the appointment, but neither the board nor the clerk of court are bound by that recommendation.”
But Johnson said he doesn’t see the process taking the full 90 days to complete.
“We’re under a little bit of a time frame, but naturally we’d like to do this as soon as possible,” he said.
While they don’t have any potential appointee in mind, Johnson said he doesn’t see the board having a problem finding a replacement.
“We’d like to do this as soon as possible,” he said, “and if I had to guess I’d say it will happen in the next 30 days or so.”
Whoever they appoint will only officially fill the seat through Dec. 4, but Johnson hinted that the person they appoint will most likely be their candidate for the empty seat in the November election.
“When we appoint a person to take Garry’s place, it’ll only be temporary,” he said. “The Republican Party will bless it and after that the Board of Elections will open it up for the Democratic Party executive committee to come up with a candidate.
“If they come up with one, our candidate and their candidate will have to file and it’ll be on the ballot in November.”
If the Democrats choose not to proffer a candidate, the person appointed by the board will automatically fill the seat, Johnson said.
County Attorney Ed Woltz said he was as surprised as everyone to return to town Friday and find that Cochran had declined the appointment.
“I thought it was a done deal,” he said.
Woltz noted that nothing in state law governing the procedure requires that the person appointed as the interim commissioner to be the Republican candidate in November.
“I’d assume that the person they appoint as interim would be the same person as is on the ballot, but there’s nothing that requires that,” he said.
But Woltz said the board should be able to come to some agreement in the remaining time allowed.
“If they don’t appoint an interim, the Clerk of Court has the authority to appoint, but that doesn’t seem likely,” he said. “It hasn’t been difficult for this board to reach a consensus.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.