DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners bid farewell to two long-time members of the county board in 2016, though the two veterans left under very different circumstances.
County Commissioners Van Tucker and Larry Johnson both served throughout the majority of the 2016 calendar year. Tucker was appointed in January to replace East District Commissioner Paul Johnson, and Larry Johnson served out the remainder of Commissioner Jimmy Miller’s term in one of the two Mount Airy District seats on the board.
Both also won their bids to be retained for full terms in the seats.
Long-time East District Commissioner Paul Johnson, a Republican, came under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation in September 2014. In 2015, he was charged with four felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense after the SBI probed into the travel records of top county officials.
County officials and prosecutors stated that Johnson had fraudulently claimed travel expenses and mileage for meetings outside the county that he did not attend or never occurred.
Despite the charges, Johnson maintained his innocence and even sought re-election. Tucker, a fellow Republican, filed to run against Johnson in the primary election in March, but the commissioner of 19 years would end his run in county government prior to that election.
On Jan. 19, Johnson pleaded guilty in Superior Court to all four charges, a matter that became a story in and of itself when personnel at the Surry County Clerk of Court’s office refused to acknowledge Johnson had changed his plea or had been in court that day.
Though there was no cooperation from local officials when probing about Johnson’s unscheduled court appearance, the N.C. Attorney General’s office, which was prosecuting the case, did confirm Johnson had entered a guilty plea.
A week later that plea was accepted by Judge Moses Massey. Johnson paid about $8,000 in restitution to Surry County, agreed to perform community service and received probation.
His attorney delivered a letter of resignation to the county that day as well, leaving an open seat in the county’s East District, a spot for which Tucker had already filed.
In January the county board, which was and is comprised of Republicans, appointed Tucker, though that process didn’t play out without some level of drama.
Though the commissioners appoint a person to fill a vacancy on the board, the Surry County Republican Party may make a recommendation as to who should fill a vacancy left by an outgoing Republican.
When the party met, it did not recommend Tucker, the lone Republican who had filed to run for the open post, to fill the vacancy. In the end, the board set aside the party’s recommendation (Paula Stanley), and Tucker took office on Feb. 1.
He won his first full term in November by besting Democrat Ronald Bowman in the general election.
The new Johnson
The county board wasn’t without a man named Johnson for long, however. Larry Johnson, who is of no relation to the former east district commissioner, took the reins in a Mount Airy District seat in March.
Larry Johnson replaced Jimmy Miller, who after 28 years was the only commissioner who had been on the board longer than Paul Johnson.
Republicans offered a packed field in the March primary for Miller’s spot. Four challengers lined up against the incumbent.
Johnson, who founded Johnson Granite, finished atop the pack. As there was no Democrat opponent, the primary essentially was the general election, so Larry Johnson could take office in December.
Miller, however, had other plans. The 82-year-old decided to hang it up, noting he wanted to see Johnson get a head start in the seat, including work on the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
So for the second time in two months, the county board had a new member, albeit with far less drama than Paul Johnson’s seat.
The county GOP recommended Larry Johnson to replace Miller, and the county board appointed him on April 13. He was sworn into office less than a week later.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.