COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Supporters for Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene and former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher packed the Dempsey B. Herring Courthouse Annex on Monday night for the first county commissioners meeting since questions were raised about the legitimacy of Greene’s win in the November general election.
The room holds 146 people, according to Fire Marshal Hal Lowder, who allowed 23 more people to stand in the lobby.
One thing both sides agreed on was wanting the sheriff showdown to end.
Community member Calvin Norton filed a protest with the state board of elections over concerns about Greene’s residency. He called out commissioners by name, saying they don’t care to do anything about the problems with the race.
“The commissioners are acting in reckless disregard of the truth and coercing the corruption of Mr. Jody Greene," Norton said. “My message for (Greene) is he needs to turn in the keys of county property and get out of office while the matter is yet still under investigation.”
When Greene filed to run for office, he listed a Cerro Gordo address, but an investigation by WECT shows no evidence that he or his wife live there, or that there is even a house. Greene has denied those claims, but hasn’t given any proof he does live there.
Norton’s complaint comes less than a week after Hatcher filed a request for an injunction asking the court to revoke Greene’s powers and let Hatcher take over. Hatcher listed a few things in his complaint, including saying Greene doesn’t live in Columbus County and is a resident of Robeson or Horry counties, the county failed to follow protocol when seating Greene and concerns over absentee by mail ballot irregularities.
The Columbus County Board of Elections dismissed protests regarding the sheriff’s race and Greene was sworn in days later. State law requires a five-day waiting period after dismissing the protests before swearing him in.
“Whether you know it or not, you’re involved in a crime,” Norton told the commissioners.
Norton said he’ll give the commissioners until Tuesday at 10 a.m. to act on the race. If they don’t give him an answer, he said he’ll file a lawsuit at the federal level against them.
Those protests, and Norton’s, were appealed to the state board of elections, which was dissolved in the midst of the ongoing 9th Congressional District investigation. A new board won’t be put into place until Jan. 31.
Before dissolving, the state board said in December the local board of elections should not issue a certificate of election to Greene, calling the legitimacy of his swearing-in into question. The state board said then that Hatcher should be the sheriff until those protests are resolved.
Greene’s supporters asked the commissioners if they could move the public input period to after Norton’s presentation, which was one of the last agenda items Monday. The commissioners said no, so several Greene supporters spoke during the public input period.
Most of them left before Norton spoke.
”It’s not about race. It’s about a man doing his job and a man not doing his job and us wanting a change," Greene supporter Kevin Harellson told the commissioners.
Harellson went on to say, “Hatcher had his chance and nothing has changed.”
Greene’s supporters acknowledged the local board of elections made a mistake letting Greene be sworn in, but said it’s too late to right that wrong.
“I’m certainly not an expert. Somebody must’ve slipped somewhere and they swore him in," Greene supporter George Smith said. “He’s sworn in and as far as everyone is concerned, he is the sheriff. How do you unswear somebody?”
Some Hatcher supporters also spoke during the public input period. Neither Greene nor Hatcher was at the meeting.
“We are now without a legitimate chief law enforcement officer,” said Karen Thurman, who was representing the Columbus County Democratic Party. “The state says Hatcher is our sheriff. Jody Greene isn’t sheriff. He’s just Jody Greene.”
Commissioners didn’t make any decisions regarding the race Monday night.
Commissioner Buddy Byrd asked Chairman Trent Burroughs to clarify to the crowd after public input that the board is in litigation and can’t talk about the race. All of the commissioners are listed as defendants in Hatcher’s complaint.
“There is a misunderstanding with the public. We want (the sheriff showdown) over as bad as anyone else does, but we can’t make any decisions about the sheriff’s race,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs said the state board or the courts have to make that decision.
Meanwhile, the state said the county shouldn’t allow Greene serve as sheriff while the protests are resolved.