The Johnston County Board of Commissioners is close to finding a successor to the late Wade Stewart.
Stewart, who first won election in 1998, died last month of an apparent heart attack after complications from back surgery. A board of commissioners must wait for a recommendation from the political party of the deceased official before naming a successor.
Earlier this month, the Johnston County Republican Party forwarded two names to commissioners – Keith Brinson, an agent at Farm Bureau Insurance in Smithfield, and Wade Stewart’s son Chad, a small-business owner in Four Oaks.
Since then, commissioners have been meeting individually with Brinson and Stewart, said Commissioners’ Chairman Jeff Carver. “Hopefully, we’ll be getting our thoughts together and someone will be (chosen) at our meeting in March,” he said.
The GOP’s recommendations followed a meeting last month in which the party interviewed applicants, asking them about their qualifications and their goals for the county.
In its written recommendation to commissioners, the GOP said Brinson was its top candidate because of his experience in the public and private sectors. The letter said Brinson was most qualified to “ ‘hit the ground running’ due in part to his knowledge of the strengths and challenges of Johnston County through his involvement with government, private business as well as service organizations.”
Brinson attended Lenoir County schools before earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UNC-Wilmington. He has worked in the insurance industry for more than 15 years. Also, he has served on the executive board of the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce since 2009 and on the Johnston County Tourism Authority since 2012.
Carver said that background has prepared Brinson for the job of county commissioner. “It would be good background for what we do,” he said.
But Carver didn’t rule out Stewart. He acknowledged that his relationship with Wade Stewart would be a factor in the decision but said Chad was a good candidate for other reasons.
“You use your heart and you use your brain,” Carver said. “Just because Chad is Wade’s son does not mean he’s a not a competent, qualified guy for that position.”
Chad Stewart owns an auto-service center in Four Oaks; before that, he owned a gas station on U.S. 301 for 15 years. He coaches youth sports and is a member of the Parent Teacher Association at Four Oaks Elementary School. The GOP cited his involvement in business and youth activities as “evidence of his commitment to the community.”
Stewart, like his father, is a Johnston County native. He attended South Johnston High School and Johnston Community College before joining the U.S. Navy, where he served for four years. He then attended Campbell University, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Carver said Stewart would bring the same perspective his father brought to the board – that of a small-business owner. “I think that’s what Wade brought to us; when the county makes a decision, how does it impact small business?” he said. “Until you write the front side of the check, you really don’t know.”
“The fact of the matter is Wade is irreplaceable,” Carver said. “We’re still mourning, and it makes decisions very difficult.”