by Joe Schwartz
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford thought she had no opponents in her re-election bid. Today, eight days before the polls open, she learned she has to contend with seven other candidates also running for school board seats.
Seven other candidates, including three other incumbents, filed for four seats, all four-year terms.
But today, Bedford learned that she can't just run for a two-year term. The Orange County and North Carolina board of elections overlooked local election law passed in 1975 that requires all candidates to run in the same pool. The top four finishers will earn four-year terms, and the fifth place candidate will be awarded the two-year term.
“It’s tough, I’m scrambling,” said Bedford, adding that the misunderstanding was “an honest mistake.”
“Fortunately, I have been attending the forums and replying to surveys, but boy, I have a lot of work to do.”
Bedford, who is running for a third term, had recycled her old campaign signs and literature and hadn’t ordered anything new because she could coast to victory. Now she is scrambling to raise money, and she has signs set to be shipped express on Friday.
Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams says unexpired terms are normally listed separately on the ballots and that no one in her office nor on the state board was aware of the unique rule for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools races. Gerry Cohen, director of bill drafting for the N.C. General Assembly, pointed out the law to Reams when he read about the election format in local press.
Reams said the board will revise sample ballots and notify all of the candidates of the change. Luckily, official ballots have not yet been printed, so they can be altered without cost.
“We’ve let (Bedford) know we will help her in any way be possibly can,” Reams said. “We need to make sure we get word out through the media and anything else we can do.”
Bedford wrote a letter to her newfound competitors this afternoon.
“I think my initial words to Tracy were a mild ‘What a big Screw-up. I haven't even bought signs,’” the e-mail reads. “We had specifically asked her about this prior to the filing period. Oh well. I am passionate about education issues and would gladly serve another four years. I wanted to let you know first."
Bedford now has to ramp up a campaign, which includes creating a website, drafting fliers and scheduling meetings with voters.
“I’ve lost three months of campaigning, but it is what it is,” she said. “We’ve just got to get this campaign in gear now.”