SMITHFIELD — The Johnston County Board of Commissioners on Monday named a successor to longtime Commissioner Wade Stewart, who died unexpectedly in January.
Chad Stewart, 42, a small-business owner, will fill the remaining 22 months of his father’s term.
Commissioners also considered insurance agent Keith Brinson for the post. Both Chad Stewart and Brinson met individually with commissioners in advance of the appointment.
Commissioners made the announcement at the end of their meeting Monday morning. Cookie Pope made the motion to appoint Stewart’s son to the vacant seat. The rest of the board agreed.
Pope said the board was following Stewart’s wishes. She said Stewart had said that if anything happened to him, he wanted to see Chad take over until his seat was up for election.
“Since it is his seat … I would make a motion that we appoint Chad Stewart,” Pope said.
Commissioner Allen Mims said the board was following state law in filling the midterm vacancy but would’ve preferred to see the decision left to voters. “And in two years, they’ll do just that,” he said.
Stewart will be sworn in before next month’s meeting.
Chad Stewart is a Four Oaks resident who owns an auto-service center in Dunn. He has no political experience, although he has been active in community and civic groups for years. He serves on the board of the Four Oaks Elementary School Parent Teacher Association and coaches youth sports in Four Oaks.
After Monday’s meeting, commissioners’ Chairman Jeff Carver said he thought respecting Wade Stewart’s wishes was the “fair and honorable” thing to do. Chad’s experience as a small-business owner will provide a valuable perspective similar to the one his father brought to the board, Carver said.
Stewart, who was not at the meeting, spoke with a reporter just after learning he had been appointed. “I’m a little bit surprised but very pleased and very happy,” he said.
Stewart said he’d been interested in running for the board in the past. The Stewart family has a long history of public service. Wade’s brother Wayne was on the school board in the 1990s; his cousin Ralph is chairman of the Johnston Health Board of Commissioners.
Chad said had hoped to carry on that tradition. “My father always said public service … needed to be done,” he said. “Obviously, this is not the way I wanted to do it.”
In accordance with state law, the county Republican Party nominated two candidates from Wade Stewart’s district – Brinson and Chad Stewart. The party made Brinson its first choice because of his experience in a large private-sector company and because of his extensive community service. Party leaders said they believed he’d be better suited to “hit the ground running.”
Brinson was at Monday’s meeting. Afterward, he gave reporters copies of a statement before quietly slipping out. The statement thanked his supporters and congratulated Stewart.
“While I am disappointed, I am in no way disheartened by the decision,” the statement read. “The Commissioners have my appreciation for their time and consideration of my candidacy.”
He later said he’d consider running for the seat in 2014, but he’s not committing to anything yet.
Stewart said his biggest priorities are creating jobs and supporting Johnston Community College. He said he has “absolutely no interest” in raising taxes.
The key to job growth, Stewart said, is to bring more industry to Johnston County. “How to go about doing that? I’ll have to roll my sleeves up and find out,” he said.