By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Departing from previously stated intentions, the Hoke County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night to appoint Roderick Cornelius Virgil, not Chief Deputy David Newton to serve out the remaining 13 months of the late Sheriff Dr. Hubert Peterkin’s last term.
Virgil will be sworn in to office at a special called meeting set for 11 a.m. Friday, November 5 at the Robert Wright Hoke County Agricultural Building on East Palmer Street in Raeford.
The Hoke County Democratic Party put forward a slate of six candidates for the commissioners’ consideration, but Virgil was not one of those candidates, North Carolina Democratic Party Ninth Congressional District Chairman Jim Davis clarified Wednesday.
Davis, himself a former Hoke County Sheriff, and Hoke County Democratic Party Chairman Larry Readdy addressed the board in public comments at the meeting.
Davis and Readdy told the board the Democratic Party hoped the commissioners would put a Democrat in the office so the appointee can run for sheriff when the position is up for election next year.
“Sheriff Peterkin was a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat in this county. He was elected to sheriff in 2002 after the state retired me from the same sheriff’s office as a Democrat here in Hoke County,” Davis said. “The position of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and the North Carolina Democratic Party Ninth Congressional District, is that we ask this body to appoint a Democrat to that office so that Democrat can get prepared to run for office in 2022 as a Democrat to succeed Sheriff Hubert Peterkin.”
Readdy said the county Democratic Party held an executive committee meeting and looked at “who are the most qualified sheriff’s law enforcement personnel available to fill Sheriff Peterkin’s position.”
“The appointment of the Democratic candidate would afford the selectee the opportunity to serve the unexpired term of Sheriff Peterkin and seek election as a Democratic candidate in the 2022 election cycle. So for your consideration we have vetted, again, six Hoke County residents with excellent qualifications and law enforcement backgrounds,” Readdy said.
The board ultimately voted to appoint Virgil, who was not one of the six candidates, as the interim sheriff.
The vote was not unanimous. A week ago, it appeared the board members were looking to appoint Hoke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy David Newton as the interim sheriff. At the meeting Monday night Commission Vice Chairman Allen Thomas nominated Newton for the position, after Commissioner Tony Hunt nominated Virgil. Thomas and Commissioner Lonnie Baldwin both said they wanted Newton for the job, and voted against appointing Virgil.
Thomas said it was a “difficult vote” and he wanted to choose his words wisely.
“In this vote, my perspective is that we’re not voting to endorse someone in the next election where partisan may be an issue. What I’m looking at doing is voting for someone to continue serving out the term that our sheriff thought he would be able to serve out, but he’s unable,” the vice chairman said. “And I believe it is very clear that if he was unable to serve, whether he had to be out of town or go on vacation for a week, it was clear who had the responsibility to take his place during that time away, and that is the chief deputy of the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department.”
It was not a situation where no one knew what Peterkin would want, Thomas said.
“It’s clear, it’s clear who he chose to be the person to step in when he could not be there,” he said.
The election next year is a separate matter from the appointment, Thomas continued in his remarks.
“Whenever we’re talking about the election next year in March, it’s very easy for me to vote for Roderick Virgil in that election. That’s separate. This vote tonight is who will fulfill the vacancy,” he said.
Baldwin, who attended the meeting by teleconference, also spoke in favor of Newton and voted against appointing Virgil.
“One thing we want to do is assure our citizens that there will be no breakdown in our county’s deputies or our sheriff’s department. And I’ve had the privilege to not only meet David Newton, but I had the privilege to watch him come before us time and time again…Mr. Newton in that job, he takes it very seriously, and right now we don’t have time to compromise the citizens of this county. We don’t have time to leave them to think they won’t still be protected. I feel that in this role, there are several good candidates, but I think to keep a consistency in our sheriff’s department and keep consistency in our county, I think we would go with David Newton.”
Commission Chairman Harry Southerland and Commissioners Hunt and James Leach did not offer comments during the discussion before the vote. Southerland read into the record a statement that a part of state law governing appointment of a sheriff, and said that both of the candidates were qualified to serve out the remainder of Peterkin’s term.
Support for both from community
Several citizens spoke during the public comment period, praising Virgil and Newton and supporting one of the other for the appointment as Hoke County Sheriff.
Harold Brock said he was concerned things were unstable and that the county needs stability and continuity after Peterkin’s sudden passing.
“I hope that you would appoint Mr. Newton to continue on to carry this out until such a time the people of Hoke County elects a sheriff,” he said.
Larry Chason also spoke in favor of Newton as sheriff.
“God bless the memory of Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, and tonight as you make a decision, I hope that you’ll make the decision for the best interest of Hoke County. Because everywhere all over this whole state, Hoke County was noted for the number one law enforcement man in Sheriff Peterkin. Tonight I voice my support for Chief Deputy David Newton,” Chason said.
Other citizens spoke on Virgil’s years of helping the community through his work with emergency services, and praised him for his positive qualities.
Daisy McDougal described the Hoke County resident as “a son who respects his parents,” “ambitious,” “God-fearing,” and “passionate and loyal.”
“Roderick Virgil is an honorable man with a tremendous amount of integrity. He has a passion for saving lives. So much so that he has worked in this station for over 20 years in different capacities, many times holding multiple jobs at once,” she said. “When I got the call tonight to speak on his character, I thought to myself, his reputation and his job history speaks for itself.”
McDougal said Virgil is “transparent, compassionate, accountable, adaptable, and super approachable.”
“But my favorite word to describe him is a friend. He is always there willing to listen, help, advise, and even when needed critique. I know that Roderick Virgil will make a great sheriff. We need someone to carry on the amazing legacy of Sheriff Peterkin, and I know Roderick saw Sheriff Peterkin not only as a role model, but a friend,” she said.
April Bratcher took a turn during the public comments to support Virgil. She said she has known Virgil since childhood, and called him an “outstanding person and leader.”
“He has always been driven to the community since childhood, and it doesn’t surprise me that he is choosing a career that will help him support the community,” she said. “Roderick is a kind, honest and supportive friend. Any time I have asked him to support my organizations and my businesses, he has stepped up without hesitation. He has also created jobs to support the youth. He believes in doing right by people, and I know he will do an outstanding job in this role.”
Deborah Purcell said Virgil has often taken on multiple jobs in public service, because “that was Roderick’s heart.”
“Roderick has been an outstanding citizen of Hoke County all his life. Roderick is one of those that I think the Lord has put in his mind to be a servant. He does everything that he possibly can to serve in every capacity,” she said.
Franklin Bowden, one of Peterkin’s brothers-in-law, thanked the commissioners for supporting the family during the funeral. Bowden said the late sheriff had “moved beyond” a political party. He did not support a candidate by name, but encouraged the board to “make the decision that’s the best for the county.”
“Hubert Peterkin had reached a point that he had moved beyond a party. We’re both lifelong Democrats but he was beyond party, beyond race, beyond gender. He had a vision and I would hope that the commissioners will look past all these other things, and select the person that Hubert trusted to carry on the vision,” Bowden said. “I hope that what you do is make sure that you make the very best decision to make sure that dream continues. I can’t imagine anyone being able to fulfill his shoes, but I think those persons that he’s mentored, the persons that he’s nurtured, that’s the kind of person that we want to fill that role.
“I don’t envy the position that you’re in, because you’ve got a tough political choice to make. But I think in the long run, I hope that you make the decision that’s the best for the county, and embodies the vision that Hubert Peterkin spent his whole life building here and achieved with the last 19 years as sheriff of this county.”
[This story includes corrected information; specifically, that Virgil was not one of the six candidates put forward by the Democratic Party.]