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Avery Elections Board Rules Greene’s School Board Win Stands; Ruling Could Be Appealed

By Tim Gardner

     A petition to make John Greene’s candidacy and ultimate win in the 2020 Avery Board of Education race invalid has been dismissed by the county’s Board of Elections.

John Greene

     Derrick Calloway, also a candidate for the Board of Education who lost in his bid for one of three available seats, filed a notarized complaint with the North Carolina State and the Avery County Board of Elections contending that Greene was not an Avery County resident for at least 30 days before the election, therefore making his candidacy and win invalid.

     Avery Board of Election members met Monday, March 16th and reconvened Tuesday, March 17th to determine if grounds existed for a public hearing concerning Calloway’s complaint. But the Elections Board members ruled that Calloway’s contestion was not persuasive that Greene’s candidacy was invalid and as a result that his win should be tossed.

     Caleb Hogan, Deputy Director of the Avery County Board of Elections offered the following statement explaining the Board’s ruling: “They (Avery Elections Board members) dismissed it (the complaint) due to some insufficiencies in the petition form filed (by Calloway) that they felt didn’t substantially comply with the legal requirements laid out in the North Carolina General Statute.”

     Avery Board of Elections members who made that determination include: Gayle Culbeath, Chairperson; Terri Seegers, Secretary; Tommy Huskins; Minnie Johnson; and Clay Crews.

     The Avery Board of Elections ruling kept Calloway’s election contestion from proceeding to a public hearing. Had a hearing been held, Calloway could have provided the Board of Elections with any further evidence he had to support his complaints and Greene could also have presented any additional evidence he had to counter Calloway’s claim.

     Calloway said he will file an appeal of the Avery Board of Elections ruling to the State Board of Elections in another attempt to get Greene’s candidacy and win overturned. Calloway gave the following statements concerning both: “I appreciate the Board of Elections for taking the time to review my protest. I understand their ruling due to technicalities that were unknown to me when I was preparing my protest. I will appeal the protest to the State Board of Elections.”

     Greene offered the following statements concerning the Avery Elections Board’s decision: “I thank the Avery County Board of Elections’ staff and attorney for their due diligence in allowing our legal process to do its job. I most especially want to thank my Lord and Savior for allowing me the grace to endure this particularly difficult time for me and my family. The support and encouragement we have received from the people of Avery County has been overwhelming and I can never put into words what that has meant, but I thank you.

     “After thoughtful review and careful consideration, the Board of Elections unanimously rendered a fair and objective decision to dismiss the challenge brought against me as to the validity of my voter registration in Avery County. I am glad that I can now place my complete focus on the largest crisis our school system and county has faced during my lifetime. I appreciate the Avery County Board of Education, administration, faculty, staff and fellow Avery citizens who have helped to feed over a thousand children a day since closing our schools due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). I wish no ill will to those who challenged my position and hope that we can now continue to focus on what’s most important…the health and well-being of Avery County.

     “I am disappointed that Mr. Calloway has chosen not to respect the decision rendered by our very capable and trustworthy Avery County Board of Elections to dismiss his protest. Amid the current crisis that we as a county and even as a country are facing with COVID-19, this is a time when we need unity not division to confront and solve issues related to our students and our community. Mr. Calloway’s protest has been an unnecessary distraction at a time when more important matters are at stake.”

     It is unclear when the State Board of Elections would rule on an appeal that Calloway would file, especially with some government agencies cutting back their operations due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

     In the Avery Board of Education race, winners and votes they received to fill the open seats were: Ruth Shirley 3,212; Kathey Aldridge 2,491; and Greene 2,408. Like Greene, Aldridge is an incumbent. Calloway got 1,172 votes; Jennifer Jennings 1,100; and Steven Neil Wilson got 658 in the race. There also were 66 write-in School Board candidate votes. These voting totals are official after the Avery Board of Elections conducted a voting canvass on March 13th.