Bladen commissioners powerless to remove interim sheriff
Posted July 9, 2010 8:02 a.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2010 10:56 p.m. EDT
Elizabethtown, N.C. — The Bladen County Board of Commissioners met Friday night to discuss options for removing the man they appointed last week as interim sheriff.
Following the recent retirement of Sheriff Stephen Bunn, the commissioners turned to Earl Storms, who served as sheriff from 1978 to 1994, to serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.
Commissioners said they hoped Storms would bring the Bladen County Sheriff's Department together after a divisive Democratic primary last month in which Capt. Prentis Benston defeated Lt. Eric Bryan.
"He assured me, if we appointed him, he'd go in and try to resolve all the issues, and everything would be smooth," Billy Ray Pait, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Friday.
Instead, immediately after Storms was sworn in on Tuesday, he fired Bryan and four deputies who supported his candidacy, saying none of the five had filled out applications before the swearing-in ceremony.
Pait said Storms had told commissioners he wasn't endorsing anyone in the election when he backed Benston all along. He said no deputies filled out an application ahead of time, but some were allowed to do so after Storms was in office.
"I was trying to bring unity to our community and to our county and the sheriff's department, and it's been in reverse," Pait said. "I was devastated by it."
Neither Storms nor Benston, whom Storms promoted to chief deputy, could be reached for comment Friday.
Voters are fuming, Pait said, but the commissioners' hands are tied.
The county attorney has said that, under state law, the board has the authority to fire Storms.
"We can only ask him to resign, but we can't make him resign. We can't do anything with him," he said. "It doesn’t make any sense to have a law that you can appoint someone to a position, but then when he’s not doing something he’s supposed to be doing or lying to the people of your county, you can’t let him go.”
The board voted 4-1 on Friday night in favor of asking Storms to resign, but were unable to take action because a unanimous vote was needed.
Benston faces Republican Billy Ward, a former Highway Patrol trooper, in the November general election.