New commissioners take seats

Republican majority now holds board. Bullard named chair, with McMillian returning to the vice chair post.

Despite a chilly rain, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the courthouse in Whiteville Monday to see three new county commissioners take office.

“It’s a big day for Columbus County,” newly elected District IV Commissioner Lavern Coleman said. “The people of the county want to see some progress, and I think we have a group that can do that.”

Traffic was blocked around the courthouse Tuesday to make room for the large crowd, despite the frigid temperatures and rain.

Coleman joined fellow freshmen commissioners Chris Matthews of District II and District V’s Brent Watts and returning incumbent Giles “Buddy” Byrd of District III on the portico of the courthouse for a swearing-in ceremony prior to their first meeting as a board. 

Vice Chairman Jerome McMillian welcomed the crowd and introduced the members of the board and dignitaries.

Rep. Brenden Jones administered the oath to Smith, Coleman and Watts. Appeals Court Judge Elect Fred Gore swore Byrd in for his fifth term on the commissioners board.

The new board mark the first time a Republican majority has been in place in the county’s history. Coleman, Matthews and Watts are all three Republicans, as is Bullard. Byrd and McMillian are Democrats, and Charles McDowell recently changed his registration from Democrat to unaffiliated.

Vice chairman Jerome McMillian told the crowd that Columbus County has a history of working together for the benefit of its entire population.

“Columbus County people are proud people,” McMillian said. “We have a lot to be proud of.”

When commissioners met in session a short while later, the board unanimously approved Ricky Bullard for commission chair, and McMillian to serve again as vice chair. Bullard will also handle administrative duties as county manager until either an interim or permanent manager is hired.

New members of the board, as well as returning commissioners, family members and Rep. Brenden Jones watch as the sole returning incumbent, Giles “Buddy” Byrd, takes the oath on a Bible held by his grandson.

“There has to be someone to sign documents and take care of business,” Bullard said after the meeting. “I won’t be doing a lot of the day to today chores. (Executive assistant) Gail Edwards has been taking care of things as needed.”

A major order of business in the near future, Bullard said, is the hiring of an interim, if not a full time, county manager. Mike Stephens retired from the post Nov. 30, having served since 2018. Prior to that, he was county attorney.

The county has already been contacted about one potential full-time candidate for the job, Bullard said, and the School of Governments is working with commissioners on an interim manager.   At least one candidate is in the wings for that post, Bullard said.

“We are going to sit down and talk to them and see what can be worked out,” Bullard said. “This is a very important decision, and we’re going to do our best to get the right one for our county.”

About Jefferson Weaver 1879 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@ColumbusCountyNews.com.