HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — County officials are explaining the procedure behind replacing an outgoing commissioner.
On Tuesday, Guilford County Commissioner James Upchurch announced that he had received an opportunity in another state and would be vacating his position on the Board of Commissioners with a little over a year left in his term.
“It has been an honor to represent my hometown as their County Commissioner and be a part of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. When I ran for office, I made a commitment to make our county more transparent, support our schools, establish a livable wage for our county employees and create an environment that supported High Point,” he wrote in a release.
Upchurch is a Republican serving the 6th District of Guilford County. He was nominated and elected in 2020, however, as a Democrat. He switched parties in December of 2021, stating at the time that “it is clear to me that my values do not align with the actions of the Democratic Party.”
In 2023, he announced a run for the state treasurer’s office, currently occupied by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dale Folwell, but then withdrew consideration from that and launched a run for state auditor.
In the county’s initial release, they stated that the executive committee of the party that nominated Upchurch would be responsible for recommending a replacement candidate. Due to the fact that Upchurch switched parties, the county further clarified that the Guilford County Democratic Party would be responsible for recommending a nomination.
According to Board Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston, the chair of the Guilford County Democrats was notified of Upchurch’s resignation, and the party has 30 days from Oct. 3 to hold a special election to vote on a nominee within the district.
The Democrats will hold their special election via Zoom on Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m. This will be live-streamed on Facebook, and there will be an opportunity for open nominations before that special election, according to Guilford County Democratic Party Chair Kathy Kirkpatrick.
While the party will nominate someone, the decision will ultimately come down to the commissioners, according to Kirkpatrick.
There is a North Carolina statute detailing procedures for replacing officials in these situations, which states in part that “To be eligible for appointment to fill a vacancy, a person must (i) be a member of the same political party as the member being replaced, if that member was elected as the nominee of a political party, and (ii) be a resident of the same district as the member being replaced, if the county is divided into electoral districts.
“If the member who vacated the seat was elected as a nominee of a political party, the board of commissioners, the chairman of the board, or the clerk of superior court, as the case may be, shall consult the county executive committee of the appropriate political party before filling the vacancy, and shall appoint the person recommended by the county executive committee of the political party of which the commissioner being replaced was a member, if the party makes a recommendation within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.”
The law does not directly address the idea of a person who has switched political parties over the course of their term, however a representative from Guilford County stated that “according to County Attorney Andrea Leslie-Fite, Commissioner Upchurch was elected as a nominee of the Democratic party; therefore, per G.S. 153A-27.1, the county executive committee of the Democratic party will be consulted for and have 30 days to tender a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners.”
The Guilford County GOP weighed in on the possible ambiguity of the statute, saying that while they had not directly consulted with the Board of Commissioners about the situation yet, they were “currently in discussions with legal counsel on how to move forward with filling the vacancy,” according to Party Chair Chris Meadows.