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  • Jefferson Weaver

Outgoing Commissioner Named New Chief Deputy

County Commissioner Jerome McMillian was scheduled to leave office today (Monday), but instead began work as the county’s new chief deputy.

McMillian replaces Aaron Herring, who was transferred to courthouse duties Friday. McMillian officially resigned as commissioner Friday.

The retired Highway Patrol Trooper was elected to District One in 2018, but lost a close race to Democrat Barbara Featherson in May. McMillian was also drafted to run as a write-in candidate for county school board, but that bid failed in November.

The move was just the latest chapter in the growing controversy around Greene’s time in office and his bid for reelection.

Just weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Democrat challenger Jason soles released an audio recording of Greene using racial slurs directed at sheriff’s office employees. The recording was secretly made by Soles when he was acting as a court-ordered liason between Greene and Lewis Hatcher while Greene’s narrow 2018 victory was being reviewed by the courts and state board of elections.

Soles said he attempted to share the recording with county commissioners and administration, as well as the district attorney and State Bureau of Investigation. District Attorney Jon David, as well as four county commissioners, said Soles never approached them with the audio until after it was broadcast in a television report.

David immediately filed a petition to have Greene removed from office, then later amended the petition after the SBI was brought in to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, maladministration, corruption and racial profiling. In sworn statements in the amended petition, Herring was accused of choking a Whiteville High School student and making traffic stops against Democrats headed to a Soles campaign event. He was tried for assaulting a black suspect in 2016 and found not guilty. That suspect, Juwarn Britt, has since been charged with federal drug crimes, but his case is frequently brought up by protestors calling for Greene and Herring to be removed from the sheriff’s office.

Herring served under Jody Greene as sheriff until Greene resigned in October during a removal hearing in Superior court. Herring then served under Interim Sheriff William “Bill” Rogers until Nov. 22, when he was placed on unpaid administrative leave. No explanation of the leave has been released by the county, due to personnel rules.

Herring was scheduled to return to work today, Dec. 5, when Green was sworn into office for a second term. However, Greene’s oath taking ceremony was postponed after Herman Lewis and Calvin Norton appealed the local board of election’s dismissal of their complaints against Greene. Norton said that Greene was not qualified to serve as sheriff because of questions about his residency in 2018. That complaint required months of wrangling in court before Greene was sworn into office in 2019.

Last week’s complaints to the Columbus Board of Elections resulted in a 2-1 vote to dismiss the protests. Democrats Bonita Blakney and Kay Horne abstained from voting. Brenda Ebron voted for the complaints, while Republicans Mack Ward and David McPherson voted against the complaints.

Lewis, a vice president with the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, told the board of elections that since Greene’s removal petition was dismissed, and no verdict was handed down, Greene was not qualified to hold the office. Greene resigned as the hearing for his removal got underway Oct. 23.

The State Board of Elections did not immediately return a request for comment about when the appeals would be heard. Lewis’ appeal was received Thursday, and Norton’s on Friday. The state board has ten days to respond.

A federal grand jury is scheduled to hear testimony from a number of local residents beginning Tuesday. Among those subpoenaed are both opponents and supporters of Greene’s election campaign, current and former employees of the sheriff’s office, and County Manager Eddie Madden.

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