By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
The election season kicked off in the area Monday with the man who wants to replace the incumbent sheriff as the first person to file at the Harnett County Board of Elections in Lillington.
Retired North Carolina State Highway Patrol Capt. Harry Ennis was at the Harnett County Board of Elections at noon as filing opened.
Mr. Ennis, a native of Buies Creek and a Democrat, said his 32-years of experience would help set a new direction and provide new leadership in the sheriff’s office.
“We all know there are serious problems in the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office,” Mr. Ennis said. “It’s not partisan, it’s an issue of professionalism and training. I will restore the honor and integrity to the sheriff’s office.”
He said he has many goals if he becomes sheriff.
“We need a sheriff who will improve the training and standards of every division in the department,” Mr. Ennis said. “The problems we are seeing in the Harnett County Jail are not acceptable, esp ecially when you look at the p e r f o r mance of jail operations in neighboring Wake and Johnston counties.”
He also wants to help the public. “I believe when you call to report a larceny, a deputy should be dispatched to come out and meet and talk with the victim,” Mr. Ennis said. “I will put a stop to telephone report-taking on day one.”
Mr. Ennis also said he is calling on incumbent Sheriff Wayne Coats to stop putting political pressures, Mr. Ennis alleges, on his staff and deputies.
“The deputies, detention officers and administrative staff need to be treated with respect and as professional public servants — not political pawns,” Mr. Ennis said.
Sheriff Coats, a Republican, has announced he will file to retain his seat later this week. He is beginning his first campaign after being appointed to fill the seat vacated when former Sheriff Larry Rollins retired.
Political newcomer Dr. David Tillman, a Democrat, joined Mr. Ennis and was the second person to file for office. He is seeking the District 3 seat on the Harnett County School Board which is held by Republican Jason Lemons. Dr. Tillman is an educator who currently works at Campbell University and lives in Buies Creek. “I have something to bring to the Harnett County School Board and I want to help the people of Harnett County,” Dr. Tillman said.
Mr. Lemons had not filed for the seat as of presstime Monday.
A familiar face was the third person to put his name on the dotted line Monday. Former Harnett County Commissioner Jim Burgin filed to seek the North Carolina Senate seat currently held by Ronald Rabin who has announced he is retiring.
Mr. Burgin, a local businessman and Republican who owns several businesses in the area, served two terms on the board of commissioners. He said that experience encouraged him to seek higher office.
“When I was a county commissioner I learned that we need more local control of things,” Mr. Burgin said. “I want to take what I learned in Harnett County to the state level. I am excited about the opportunity.”
Incumbent state House District 53 Rep. David Lewis, a Republican, got immediate opposition on the first day. He is being challenged by former Colorado journalist Richard Chapman, a Democrat, who recently moved to northwest Harnett County. Mr. Chapman was the assistant city editor of the Rocky Mountain News prior to moving here. He was notably part of a Pulitzer Prizewinning news team that covered the Columbine High School massacres. He said he has multiple reasons for trying to unseat Rep. Lewis who has served since 2002.
“I know how politics works and I have the time,” Mr. Chapman said. He also has issues with Rep. Lewis. “He wants to play on the big stage and I want to help the people of Harnett County,” Mr. Chapman said.
Rep. Lewis filed for the seat he has held since 2002. He threw the first political blow in the race.
“I am running against a man who has never voted in Harnett County,” Rep. Lewis said. “I want to continue doing the good things I have done in Raleigh.”
Harnett County Board of Commissioners District 1 representative Barbara McKoy filed for a second term in office. Mrs. McKoy filed as a Democrat to maintain her seat.
Vivian Bennett filed to maintain her seat on the Harnett County School Board in District 1. Mrs. Bennett was originally appointed to her seat when her husband, Dr. Jim Bennett, passed away while he was in office. She subsequently won election to the seat. She is a Democrat.
Filing for all political offices is during regular business hours at the board of elections office. The filing period ends Feb. 28 at noon. The North Carolina Primary will be held May 8.