Incumbent to serve despite losing Nov. 8 election

The Craven County Board of Education officially declared the District 7 seat vacant during Tuesday’s December work session and then appointed a familiar face to serve as replacement representative.

Sarah Benischek had won the seat in this year’s election, but later decided to move out of District 7, which made her ineligible to serve in the post.

On Tuesday, the school board first adopted a resolution declaring a vacancy and then received advice from Craven County Board of Education attorney Brian Gatchel on how to proceed.

Gatchel told the board it had a range of ways to fill the vacant seat, citing a motion, second and a vote as the minimalist process to fill the seat.

District 7 holdover representative Joseph Walton, who lost to Benischek in the Nov. 8 election, recused himself from the discussion.

Vice Chairwoman and fellow Havelock representative Kim Rice Smith made a motion to nominate Walton, which was seconded by District 3 representative Carr Ipock, thereby opening up the nomination for discussion.

“When we kick into the appointment process, it takes every bit of discretion away from the voters,” Smith said. “That’s us picking someone we like who thinks like us and we should be very, very cautious in using that appointment process, so then I look back and I see Joseph won the district, the precincts that represent his district.”

In the Harlowe voting precinct, Walton got 947 votes to Benischek’s 789. Overall in the countywide race, Benischek got 22,194 votes to Walton’s 14,905.

Smith represents the western part of the Havelock district and Walton has represented the eastern part for the last 14 years.

School board representatives serve four-year terms, but when a vacancy is declared and an appointment is made, the representative serves until the next school board election, which will be in 2018.

“It’s a temporary thing,” Smith said. “Whoever it is will have to file again just over a year from now and then the voters will choose.”

District 2 representative Frances Boomer said she also supported the selection of Walton, as did newly installed Chairman David Hale.

“He is a qualified candidate, he was supported by his district, and I believe he provides that stability we need as we transition,” Hale said.

In a roll call vote, the board unanimously voted to appoint Walton as the District 7 representative.

Walton was sworn in by taking the oath of office at the end of the work session by Myra Flowers, the superintendent’s administrative assistant.

Walton thanked the board members, but did not comment on his appointment.

In other school board news, Finance Office Denise Altman recommended the board approve the purchase of student computers with federal Title I funds and State Supply funds.

“We’ve received bids for the purchase of Dell Chromebook 11s,” Altman said.

Purchasing 650 of the units would cost $137,862, which is above the purchase limit of $90,000, therefore the purchase required board approval.

The request was moved to the board’s consent agenda, which will be approved at the board’s action meeting at 6 p.m. today in the board’s meeting room at 3600 Trent Road.