The Caswell County Board of Commissioners rejected a replacement for the late Chairman and District 4 Commissioner Nathaniel Hall, selected a new vice chair, and discussed further delays in the county’s annual financial audit.

New Chairman and At-Large Commissioner John Dickerson began the meeting by offering his condolences to the Hall family. Dickerson moved from vice chair to chairman following the Jan. 16 passing of Hall, who had just been elected chairman two weeks previously.

Hall, a Democrat, represented District 4 on the Board for almost a decade and a half, winning his fourth term in 2020. Per the state code, the Board is required to consult with the Caswell County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee on who will replace Hall for the remainder of his term, though they are not bound to the party’s preferences. The state code has only two requirements for any replacement.

“In my mind, to be eligible of the date of appointment — which conceivably could be today — that person must be, as of today, a member of the same political party as the member being replaced and reside in the same district, and in this case, that would be the district from which Commissioner Hall was elected from,” County Attorney Brian Ferrell told the Board when asked about the specific legal requirements for Hall’s replacement.

The Executive Committee of the county’s Democratic Party nominated retired Army Lt. Col. Antonio Foster, who they described as, “an esteemed member of Caswell County’s community at-large, and community stakeholder to Commissioner Hall’s vacant seat.”

Foster’s appoint had some positive reaction: District 1 Commissioner Frank Rose said he was “very impressed” with Foster’s time in uniform.

However, District 5 Commissioner Tim Yarbrough and Dickerson both voiced strong opposition, the former citing the location of Foster’s home and the latter Foster’s historical party affiliation.

“I have a problem installing someone, or seating a commissioner in a district where we have new lines drawn — with all due respect and nothing against him,” Yarbrough said. “To me, the voters of District 4, as it stands now, are not being fairly represented.”

The county adjusted the borders of its election districts in 2021, after Hall’s most reelection, as part of their regular once-a-decade redistricting. Foster lives within the 2020 borders of the district, but not the borders from 2021 and beyond.

However, County Manager Bryan Miller noted that when a similar situation presented itself a few years ago, both the county and the state agreed that the replacement had to come from the district the departing commissioner was elected to — even if that district had been adjusted since.

“It was determined at that time by the state and by our county attorney that the old district was the district in which the nomination needed to come from,” Miller said. “So, both the state and our county attorney have said the old district is the correct district to pick this representative from.”

Ferrell confirmed that when the District 4 seat is decided again in the 2024 election, Foster would not be able to run for re-election without relocating.

Dickerson took issue with Foster’s party affiliation. Foster was registered as a Independent until the morning of Jan. 30, the day before the Democratic Party’s letter nominated Foster for Hall’s seat. Dickerson noted that North Carolina law requires candidates to be a member of their party of choice at least 90 days prior to that party’s primary in order to be on the ballot.

“I think I’d rather hope to see a nominee that is a longtime Democrat or at least had been a Democrat for the 90-day period leading up to the appointment,” Dickerson. “I also cannot support it.”

Dickerson and Yarbrough were joined in their opposition by District 2 Commissioner Finch Holt, while Rose, At-Large Commissioner Rick McVey and District 3 Commissioner Jeremiah Jefferies — the Board’s only other Democrat — voted in favor of Foster’s appointment. As the vote was tied 3-3, the appointment failed.

Jefferies did note that the he had been told by the county’s Democratic Party that they had another candidate available, and Dickerson instructed Miller to reconnect with the party about that candidate.

The Board also elected Yarbrough to be Vice Chair with votes from Holt, Rose, Yarbrough, and Dickerson. McVey and Jefferies voted for McVey instead.

During the “County Manager’s Updates,” Miller explained that the county’s audit from FY 2020-21 was continuing, though progress on reconstructing county’s old financial system was going slower than expected.

“I will reiterate once again that providing a timeline is extremely difficult, because very few of these items are in the county’s hands. We don’t control the auditors, we don’t control the CPAs, we don’t control how fast they work or how fast they can work.”

At the Board’s Jan. 3 meeting, Miller told the Board that work on reassembling the financial records from that year was expected to be completed by Jan. 30.

“As of today, Eisen and Associates has not completed the reconstruction of the 2021 system,” Miller told the Board. “They have missed their target completion date but hope to be finished soon. I am going to ask the Eisen group to present to the Board at the first meeting in March to give a complete update on where they are.”

He said that the current delays are related to the reason why the financial system has to be reconstructed in the first place: hundreds of line items in the “chart of accounts” were merged or deleted when the county moved from one financial software to another. These changes are currently inhibiting work verifying credit card payments made by the county.

“If the chart of accounts is not correct, those credit card payments can’t be posted to the correct line items,” Miller said. “So that’s what they’re running into now is the credit card payments, they need verification on which lines they go to.”

The Board also questioned Miller on the county’s contract with Eisen: Dickerson asked why the county had spent around $100,000 on Eisen’s services, more than originally expected.

“What is this coming from?” Dickerson asked. “How is it dragging out this long?”

“I don’t believe anybody understood how bad the conversion went,” Miller replied. “We can still go into the system; we can still work somewhat in the system.”

Holt asked why the county’s contract with Eisen contained no formal deadline for when their work had to be completed by.

“Creating a contract with a termination date for this company would be like signing a contract to build a building, and you didn’t know how big the building was, what square footage it was,” Miller said. That’s why Eisen was agreeing to come in and look at this without knowing what issues were involved with working on this system.”

“When they contracted with us, it was really like they were fitting us in,” he added. “They really tried to fit us in with their already-existing jobs, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s taking so long, is because there’s all these other places that they’re assisting as well, and they’re working us in as they can.”

The Board of Commissioners will next meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 for a joint meeting with the towns of Milton and Yanceyville at CoSquare in Yanceyville.