Not quite out of the Woods

First Posted: 5/7/2014

The pay and benefits that Noah Woods receives for being a county commissioner almost provoked outrage sufficient to deny him a seventh term, but another perk was his lifejacket.

Had Woods’ challenger on Tuesday, Faline Locklear Dial, enjoyed the benefit of distributing literally hundreds of thousands of dollars or more of discretionay money during the past decade in District 4, would that not have bought her goodwill and the additional 11 votes she apparently needs for victory?

As it stands, Dial trails Woods by 10 votes out of almost 2,100 ballots cast, well within the threshold to ask for a recount, which is a safe bet to happen. There are also provisional ballots that must be counted during the canvass on Tuesday, so the cement on Woods’ re-election has yet to harden.

The other sitting commissioner opposed on Tuesday, Hubert Sealey, who like Woods defended his pay and benefits in a Q&A provided this newspaper, seems destined to be denied a fourth term. A runoff is likely, but the leading voter-getter, Berlester Campbell, a former commissioner, appears positioned to win that runoff if it is held. Campbell, it should be mentioned, has promised, if elected, that he would donate his $700 a month stipend to nonprofits in District 2, a gesture we are sure won him some support.

Here’s something else to ponder: Had this newspaper not published information on the commissioners’ scam to continue to be paid after exiting office, a revelation that led the board to scuttle the so-called deferred compensation plan, Sealey, if he is defeated, would have been eligible to continue to draw 75 percent of his salary going forward for each of the 12 years he served on the board — reaping him an additional $100,000 of your money. This is the kind of stuff that is hatched in the darkness of the back room and then hidden in the middle of a budget.

Tuesday was Woods’ biggest scare since he was initially elected in 1990. He had been used to no or only token opposition in District 4. There is no denying that he has been an effective leader, and someone who cares deeply for Robeson County and the community he serves. Of all the commissioners, he probably works the hardest at staying accessible to the community.

Tuesday’s close call was an obvious voter protest and should be a shot over the bow for Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine and Jerry Stephens in 2016, when they too will have to face the heat over their pay and benefits — assuming corrective action isn’t taken. Their re-election chances would further be imperiled if they face, as did Woods, an educated, accomplished candidate with an actual vision, a voter commodity in short supply in this county.

The commissioners in the interim will fortify their election chances with discretionary money, which is why we were told early on they would go to the mat to protect it. They all understand well its power on Election Day.

But none better at this moment than Noah Woods.