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County Council Seat 4 Up for Grabs in November?

A Column by the Editor
web posted June 25, 2012

COLUMN – As things sit right now, area builder Tracy Freeman will walk unopposed into the district 4 county council seat left open by long-time County Councilman Willie Bright deciding not to run. However, this is no ordinary election year with challengers being kicked off the primary and November ballots due to errant paperwork at the time of filing, and District 4 may have a new twist no one saw coming.

Originally Freeman was to face Betty Butler in the Democrat Primary earlier this month. Butler was kicked off the ballot following a ruling on the candidate's proper procedure to file for office. With Butler out there was no primary for the seat, and no Republican stepped up to file, leaving Freeman as the assured winner in November barring any bizarre turn of events.

Well, welcome to bizarre-ville.

Political insiders in the Bettis Academy area began sending emails and making phone calls to Edgefield Daily stating that Dist. 4 County Councilman Willie Bright has distributed a letter seeking help obtaining signatures so he could file as a petition candidate for the November election. Mr. Bright denies he has distributed any such letter, but he did not deny a possible petition run.  

"I've thought about it," Councilman Bright said, adding that he is keeping his options open depending on the outcome of a decision by Mr. Freeman. According to Bright, there is a "pretty clear" conflict of interest should Freeman win the election due to his position on the board of trustees at Francis Marion University.

Mr. Freeman confirmed the possible conflict due to both seats, that at FMU and the County Council, being positions of honor and would most likely be duel office holding - which is illegal. Freeman said he is awaiting an opinion from the State Ethics Commission on the matter and has not decided to drop out of the Dist 4 County Council race at this time.

If elected, Freeman would have to resign one of the seats. He was elected to the Board at FMU in 2010 and represents the Third Congressional District, seat 5. The decision Freeman has to make will most likely come sooner than later even though he is not required to decide until the November election results are certified. 

In the event that Freeman chooses to stay on the board at FMU, he will have to back out of the Dist. 4 County Council race if he knows he will resign the seat upon election, causing a special election to be held. That would leave no candidate filed for the November general election for the district save a write-in candidate or candidates.

However, if he makes the decision now to drop out of the race, petition candidates could still muster a last minute petition drive to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot. According to the Edgefield County Voter Registration Office, there are 2,871 registered voters in the district. A candidate is required to get 5% of them, or 144, to sign the petition.

Freeman said last week he would return my call after speaking only briefly on the choices he is facing, but has not done so as of this writing.

The fact that Mr. Bright confirmed he is thinking about running as a petition candidate gives rise to the question of whether or not others will follow suit. Betty Butler, who was removed from the Democrat primary ballot, already has the organization of supporters in place to collect the needed signatures to get back on the November ballot as well.
That could bring another interesting twist if a Republican candidate makes a petition run. Dist. 4 is basically a toss-up district depending on voter turnout and with two Democrats running they would spilt the Democrat vote. That would be a big gift to a Republican running as a petition candidate who would almost certainly take the seat.

Of course, nothing will happen until Mr. Freeman makes the decision on which seat he plans to serve - a decision he should have made prior to filing his candidacy. 

Freeman needs to do something soon in order to give the people of District 4 a choice of potential candidates. Otherwise, if he backs out next month after Bright collects the needed signatures, it could appear he would be trying to assure Bright an uncontested election to retain the seat.

It is notable that Bright is the County Council member who appointed Freeman to serve on the Edgefield County Planning Commission. Another position Freeman would have to resign if elected.

I have no doubt that Freeman would be an asset to the Edgefield County Council if he chooses to serve if elected. That makes the whole situation that much more prickly.

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