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September 21, 2021

State law says Landis’ Porter would have to choose: police officer or alderman

LANDIS — When Buddy Porter Jr. filed as a candidate for Landis alderman on July 9, he didn’t know that, if elected, he would have to decide between serving on the town board or keeping his job as a police officer.

State law prohibits police officers from holding office in the municipality for which they work.

“The offices of policeman and chief of police are hereby declared to be offices that may be held concurrently with any elective office other than elective office in the municipality employing the policeman or chief of police, pursuant to Section 9 of Article VI of the Constitution,” says state statue 160A-284.

According to Frayda Bluestein, a public law and government professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a police officer is not prevented from running for office. If elected, however, he would have to choose between serving on the board or staying on the job.

Porter would have to make that decision if he is elected. But Porter said he can’t lose his job, so he is likely to forgo a seat on the board.

Porter said he is upset and feels like a rug has been snatched out from under him. He said he wanted to help the town that he grew up in and his family has lived in for the past 200 years.

“I wanted to run,” Porter said. “I wanted to serve my town.”

Police officers may serve on the board of a town that he doesn’t work for.

“I’m a citizen like the rest of us are,” he said.

He says the law makes him feel like a second-class citizen. He has seen other aldermen serve as firefighters or police officers, so he didn’t think he would have a problem running for alderman.

The Landis Board of Aldermen had amended its personnel policy at a July 8 meeting in an effort to allow employees to run for local office unless that employee is the head of any department or the town finance officer or manager.

When the board passed the personnel policy amendment, then-interim Town Manager Kenny Isenhour said the prior policy was an injustice and treated employees as “second-class citizens.” Alderman Bobby Brown agreed and said he would not like employees to feel that way.

Meanwhile, Bluestein said a municipality can’t create an exception to a state law by local ordinance, so parts of the new personnel policy are invalid.

State law generally bars a board member from employment by the municipality in which he or she serves, except if the town has a mayor-council form of government and a population of fewer than 5,000 people, which would include Landis. 

It is now too late for Porter to withdraw his candidacy. And regardless of whether he chooses to step down if elected, the name Buddy Porter Jr. will be on the Nov. 5 municipal ballot. Porter said he is still processing the situation and is not sure what his move will be going forward, including whether he would encourage voters to support another candidate.

Porter said he had an agenda for growth and helping town residents and employees. The more aldermen that people trust, the better off the town is, he said. Porter described himself as trusting and positive.

Porter said he can still serve the town as a police officer but was hoping to be able to give something extra.

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