BY MIKE FUHRMAN
The Executive Committee of the Iredell County Republican Party handed Maureen Purcell the gift of incumbency in January 2021 when its members nominated her to serve as Iredell County’s register of deeds until the next election.
After the position was vacated by Ron Wyatt, who accepted an offer to work as Troutman town manager, there were several qualified applicants for register of deeds, including Joyce Bess, who had worked in the Register of Deeds Office for 25 years and been appointed interim register of deeds by county commissioners following Wyatt’s resignation.
Even though the Republican leadership selected Purcell over a nominee who was undeniably more qualified as well as other nominees with more relevant professional experience, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners was required by N.C. law to accept the GOP’s nomination.
So, on February 28, 2021, Purcell began working as Iredell County register of deeds with a starting salary of $62,597. She has had more than a year to prove that she can handle the job.
Purcell, who previously worked in the nonprofit sector, is standing for election for the first time in the May 17 Republican primary. She is opposed by Renee Holland, a long-time administrator with the Iredell County Health Department.
Before Iredell County Republicans and unaffiliated voters who select a GOP ballot cast their ballots, they should ask themselves two important questions: Has Purcell been a good steward of the public treasury? And has she lived up to the high professional and ethical standards required of this important position?
In my opinion, Purcell has failed on both counts based on her decision almost four months ago to hire a pair of political insiders to work in the Register of Deeds Office.
On January 7, Purcell made conditional offers of employment to Statesville mayoral candidate Brian Summers — with whom she held a public campaign event just three days after offering him a job — and longtime GOP leader and former N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley. Both men’s official duties involve handling passport applications.
Summers began his part-time position on January 20 and Brawley started on January 21, according to county personnel records.
With these hirings, Purcell may well have become the first leader in Iredell County history to put two men on the county payroll in the same week who have been ordered to spend time in jail. That is quite a feat for any office holder, and one the current register of deeds accomplished in less than a year.
I’ve already published my reservations about Summers’ fitness to serve as mayor of Statesville. For those of you who missed it, he was ordered to serve 90 days in jail in 1999 after violating his probation following a conviction related to fraudulently obtaining more than $900 worth of merchandise from a Statesville clothing store. More recently, the former chairman of the Iredell County Republican Party and the president of the Statesville Branch of the NAACP concluded that Summers had suppressed Black voters in the 2020 primary election. The NAACP president also stated that Summers has misled voters by falsely claiming that he had been endorsed by the local civil rights organization during the current mayoral campaign.
Purcell’s selection of Brawley for one of these part-time positions is equally troubling. The former lawmaker was ordered to serve 15 days in jail on October 19, 2017, in Guilford County after a judge there found him in criminal contempt of court after determining Brawley had “willfully disobeyed” a court order. That finding is part of the official record in a civil lawsuit involving Brawley and his former business partners. In that lawsuit, Brawley was accused, among other things, of malfeasance, misappropriation of trade secrets, fraud (forgery), civil conspiracy and libel.
Were Summers and Brawley the best two people Purcell could find for these positions?
Voters and taxpayers will never know because Purcell did not avail herself of the opportunity to advertise these jobs in the same manner that other Iredell County government positions are advertised. If Purcell was committed to providing the best service to taxpayers, she certainly should have sought out the best possible applicants, right? By not advertising the positions on the Iredell County jobs portal, she denied other county residents the opportunity to apply and be considered based on their education and experience.
Because they are typically elected, the sheriff and register of deeds can hire whomever they want without the approval of the county’s human resources department. Applicants for the Sheriff’s Office must pass a rigorous background check in order to hold their law enforcement certifications. Register of Deeds Office employees are not required to hold such certifications.
However, because these employees handle sensitive documents — birth certificates, death certificates, land transfers, and now passport applications — it is incumbent that the register of deeds hire applicants with the unquestionable integrity and a history of upstanding personal conduct. This office is not the place for political insiders — and certainly not the place for individuals whose personal conduct has led to jail time.
Even if Purcell was set on hiring a couple of political operatives from the beginning, she should have ensured that her hires passed the sniff test. She either knowingly selected these Republican insiders without conducting a proper background check — Brawley’s criminal contempt charge and jail term are available on the first page of his google search results — or she did not let their questionable backgrounds deter her from adding these men to her staff.
Purcell was given several chances to answer questions about her decision to hire Summers and Brawley. She was offered the opportunity to answer questions in an interview, respond to them in writing or provide a statement.
Early Wednesday morning, Purcell requested the questions be provided in writing. After the questions were emailed to her, she said she had forwarded them to the county attorney and was “waiting for a response.”
After being advised of the publication deadline, Purcell subsequently stopped responding to emails and text messages from Iredell Free News seeking comment.
If Purcell is unwilling to provide a reasonable explanation for her actions to the public, voters should think long and hard about entrusting her with this important office for the next four years.
Mike Fuhrman is the editor of Iredell Free News.