Just a day after he announced his candidacy for the vacant Sampson County Clerk of Court’s position, Republican Dwight Williams Jr. received the call he was being appointed to fill the void.
Williams officially announced he would be running for Clerk of Court during a reception at The Ashford Inn Thursday night. On Friday, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Albert D. Kirby Jr. selected Williams to complete former clerk Norman Wayne Naylor’s unexpired term, which ends November 2018.
“I thought Dwight was the best choice,” Kirby told The Independent. “It was a tough choice, but Dwight seemed to have the edge.”
Kirby held interviews with several Republican and Democrat hopefuls — seven in all — in recent weeks, meeting with each for “no less than an hour,” he noted. In addition to Williams, Kirby recounted productive talks with Republicans Chris Driver, Chris Fann and Barbara Moore, as well as Democrats Tammy Grady, Brent Baggett and Jerry Bradshaw.
“I wanted to make an informed decision,” said Kirby. “My mind wavered and I asked the Lord about it. They could all be clerk and one of them might be. There is an election in November, so if I’m wrong, the citizens will ultimately make it right.”
Williams said Thursday that, as Sampson Clerk of Court, he would work, professing to have “a server’s heart.” On Friday, upon being notified of his appointment, he stood by that.
“I appreciate the appointment by Judge Kirby and I look forward to serving the judiciary, the attorneys in town and the public of Sampson County,” Williams said Friday, via telephone following the appointment. “I pledged last night to serve the citizens of this county and I plan to do that.”
Williams will hold the office until November, when the election takes place. Primaries will be held in April following the filing period next month. Even with his appointment, Williams is expected to file for election to the office.
A presence in the Sampson County Republican Party for years, Williams served as a precinct chairman, precinct judge, county treasurer, county vice-chairman and ultimately as local party chairman, a position he held for more than five years. Williams also served for a short time on the three-member Sampson County Board of Elections.
A lifetime resident of Vann Crossroads, he worked with the family farming operation for a number of years, with H.N. Carr, Inc. of Clinton for a short time and then for the next 27 years with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance and American Farm Bureau Insurance Services in their Crop Insurance Divisions. He served in various managerial capacities until his retirement at the end of 2014.
He said that career has prepared him for the managerial responsibilities and the customer service requirements that come with the Clerk of Court’s post. Kirby said he felt the same way.
Speaking to The Independent, the judge pointed out particular skills that each of the candidates had that would make them a fit for the clerk’s position. He said each showed well in the interviews and brought ideas, energy and thoughtfulness to the process. In the end, Kirby said he felt the appointee filling the unexpired term should be Republican, as that is Naylor’s affiliation. He ultimately landed on Williams, crediting the Republican Party mainstay for his “maturity.”
Since January 2015, Williams has served as district director for U.S. Congressman David Rouzer in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. During their interview, Kirby asked Williams why he would want to leave that job for the clerk’s position.
“He told me ‘I love Sampson County and I am a man of service. I feel I can touch people best as clerk,’” Kirby recalled. “He had a maturity to him. That resonated with me.”
Kirby said he also felt that having Williams would quell rumors of upheaval and people possibly losing their jobs in a transition.
“He told me he would sit down, listen and learn,” said Kirby. “He knows that you get the best bang for your buck by supporting your support staff. I felt he was closest to Mr. Naylor in temperament, so you’re getting Mr. Naylor in there in a different form.”
Naylor stepped down on Dec. 31, 2017, cutting his fourth term short by 11 months. In the months leading up to his departure, Naylor endorsed Williams to fill out his unexpired term. Williams accepted Naylor’s offer, however no succession plan — which would have required former Senior Resident Superior Court Judge William Douglas Parsons’ approval — was in place prior to Parsons’ sudden passing in September.
Kirby has been getting things situated on his end since the governor appointed him to the bench last month. He wound down his private practice in the month that followed, a prerequisite to officially swearing the oath, which happened earlier this week. The clerk’s appointment was atop Kirby’s to-do list.
He said deputy and assistant clerks have been able to, on a temporary basis, take care of some paperwork within the office since Naylor left. However, the Administrative Office of the Courts has stepped in to sign off on other documents as necessary.
“Nothing serious has occurred and we’re in a good position to get a clerk installed,” said Kirby.
Kirby and Williams are expected to meet in judge’s chambers on Saturday, with a formal swearing-in anticipated for the beginning of next week. The two said formalities will be hashed out over the weekend, with Kirby noting he wanted to have Williams sworn in Monday or Tuesday.
“All of this is at Judge Kirby’s direction and convenience,” said Williams. “And what is convenient for him, I will make convenient for me.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.