BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Commissioners in Bladen County knew there would soon be a new sheriff in town, but they thought voters would be the ones to make that decision. Instead, a surprise announcement has complicated the process.
Sheriff Steve Bunn is retiring months before his term is up.
According to state statue, the coroner will take over the role until a new sheriff is elected. However, county commissioners can appoint someone else to serve temporarily.
Chairman Billy Pait says one choice would have been Prentis Benston, who won a runoff election for sheriff Tuesday. Now, there is some new competition against Benston, which prevents Pait from appointing him.
"If Mr. Ward had not put in a petition to run, I would have been in favor of going ahead and appointing Mr. Benston," said Pait.
Billy Ward has petitioned to run as an independent for sheriff in November, but he's not officially on the ballot. Ward has until Friday to turn in enough signatures to the board of elections to qualify.
The possible challenge has not discouraged Benston from trying to become the first African American sheriff in county history.
"Its his right to do that, what we would do is continue to focus on our campaign and race, and we are looking forward to the general election in November," said Benston.
If Ward gets enough signatures, the race for sheriff will continue, and so will the search for Steve Bunn's replacement.
Another potential replacement for Sheriff Bunn is his Chief Deputy Phillip Little.
Commissioners will meet July 1st to talk about that replacement. Coroner Hubert Kinlaw would serve temporarily until one is named.