Many questions, few answers about Bladen Co. Improvement Committee
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, BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- Last month, we did a series of reports on Get out the Vote activities in Bladen County, where candidates pay people to round up votes for them. We received a number of calls in response to those reports saying we never mentioned the biggest player of all in the Bladen Get out the Vote arena.

It's called the Bladen County Improvement Association, and it's been operating for at least 30 years. The donors to this political action committee include some very high profile politicians, including Sen. Kay Hagan, state Sen. R.C. Soles, former state Sen. Tony Rand and District Attorney Rex Gore. But who exactly runs this organization is a mystery to many residents.

"They say they're Bladen County Improvement Association, and if they are, I might would want to be a member," said Benny Callihan, a Bladen County resident who has concerns about the PAC. "I want to improve Bladen County. I want to see it grow and be beautiful, but I've never seen a park that they've cleaned up. I've never seen any playground equipment. I'm not saying they've not done this, but if they have, I don't have any knowledge of it."

Instead, the only thing Callihan sees this group do is work to influence the outcome of elections. A copy of a sample ballot committee workers handed out during the last election was already filled out for some of its regular contributors, like Gore and County Commissioners W.D. Neill and Albert Beatty.

"They want to get politicians that believe the way they do; the liberal agenda. They want those politicians elected, and conservatives can't get elected. They won't put a conservative on the ballot," Callihan said.

In some cases, the people in charge of the Bladen County Improvement Association and the people they endorse are one in the same. Neill is the president of the political action committee. We're told other active members include County Commissioner Delilah Blanks and Board of Education members Mike Cogdell and Ophelia Munn. Until recently, Sheriff's candidate Prentis Benston served as the group's vice president.

While it appears what they're doing is legal, more and more people are starting to question the motives and tactics of the Bladen County Improvement Association. Callihan thinks the group holds far to much sway and literally controls who gets elected through a group of hundreds of residents who vote exactly the way they're told.

"They control our day to day lives," Callihan said. "The judges have to be on their sample ballot in this district to get elected. The county commissioners that raise our taxes, make county ordinance, they effect our life. Our Board of Education. And they're electing people that maybe I don't want and a lot of the people in Bladen County don't want."

We were unable to reach anyone with the Bladen County Improvement Association for comment, but we did speak to a founding member, who says he recently left the group because he did not think elected officials should be running a political action committee. He did not want to go on camera, but said he thought money had started to play way to big a role in determining which candidates the committee supported. He also added that the group has done a lot of good over the years, advocating for people who have been discriminated against.

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Would Bladen County even need an improvement committee if we weren't in the embarrassing condition we were in? Both sightly and politically?

I doubt it!!!

It just goes to show you that corruption can happen at all levels of government!!!!!!!!!!

And if our "candidates and ELECTED OFFICIALS" are the "GODLY PEOPLE" they all claimed to be,would this even be a topic of discussion?

It sure is a strange thing that when Eric Bryan won the first Primary,, the BCIC wasn't even an issue.

It's good to see Grover on here manipulating politics for his Bladen 5 as he does on Bladenonline. Man!! We sure do appreciate the General Statutes information. Wonder why those Statutes weren't posted after the Primary? I know, I know, the SBOE concluded there was no vote buying,,but they did find cause to turn some ugly things over to the State for investigation,,and I assure you it wasn't from the Benston Corner!!

i beleive that more things are coming to light as they should.deputy benston would be a shoe in,until the bladen 5 incident.that joke has awoken the concerns of citizens who care about people as humans,not only votes.

And maybe one day the truth will come out Mr.Lewis. Why these 5?? Why not the other 23 that supported the Bryan Campaign.They still have their jobs, and some of them are supporting Ward.

I'll be glad when it's all over with. Alot of friendships have been destroyed because of this election.

If you can assure people that none of these ugly things came from the Benston Corner, then you must have some knowledge of the investigation. Concerning the fact that the investigation has not been completed, nor public at this time there must be a leak! Maybe you have committed a crime by having all this secret knowledge.Maybe the state should look into who is leaking this information? Also, for your mass of knowledge the BCIC has been an ISSUE for 30 years.

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- An update on the investigation into allegations of vote buying in Bladen County. County Board of Elections Chair Ray Britt says state investigators have found no evidence to support those allegations. The candidates and campaign workers who were implicated, including McCrae Dowless and Levi Roberts, have been cleared of any wrongdoing.

++++++State elections investigators are still looking into other allegations, including potential problems with absentee ballots. They have forwarded some of their findings on to criminal investigators at the state level for further review.

SBOE Investigator Marshall Tutor says he is confident some issues have been resolved, and Bladen County residents will have a better election system when it comes time to vote in November.
THERE'S THE LEAK PAL. My assurance is my opinion!!

Bladen County is mostly rural, and county leaders are allowing the rural countryside to be trashed by unsightly trailer parks, derelict houses, junk stored in front yards, ugly signage, clear-cutting of timber with no buffers, and many other blighted sights.

If you are a property-owner, you can do whatever you like to your property without any regards to the esthetics of the neighborhood. No elected official in the county will object.

The Bladen leadership has never shown any interest whatsoever in making the county cleaner and greener. Leaders say they want "clean industry," but this is just empty posturing.

Elizabethtown is currently making "improvements" to its downtown. But for the so-called improvements to materialize, the town cut down at least a dozen historic oaks that arched over the main streets, ruining the town's character.

Bladen County leadership is woefully inept and has been for years. Robeson County has long been the most blighted county in N.C., but Bladen will soon surpass it.

THIS STORY IS IN REGARDS TO HOW THE SO-CALLED BLADEN CO IMPROVMENT COMMITTEE IS CONTROLING OUR ELECTIONS IN BLADEN COUNTY! THEY TAKE MONEY FROM CANDIDATES AND THEN MARK THEIR CHOICE ( TO PROMOTE THIER AGENDA) ON A SAMPLE BALLOT. THEN WHEN THEIR MEMBERS GO TO THE POLL THEY ARE GIVEN A BALLOT ALREADY MARKED AND GO IN AND VOTE ACCORDING TO THE SAMPLE BALLOT. THEY COME OUT AND GIVE THE BALLOT BACK FOR THE NEXT ONES. THIS PART MAY BE LEGAL BUT IT IS PUTTING WHO THEY CHOOSE TO BE OUR POLITICANS! GO VOTE IS YOUR FIRST PRIORITY AND THEN HANG AROUND AND OBSERVE FOR YOURSELF, IT HAPPENS AT ALL 17 PRECINCTS.

Guest 564,

You said it and how right you are. I also thought that the Bladen County Improvement organization would be concerned with the countys appearance, but boy was I wrong.

Drive from E-town down HW 87 and then turn on HW 41 to Bladen Community College. Eyesores everywhere. It's just plain ugly.

It looks to me like the college would want the environment around it to look clean, but evidently they don't care. All they're interested in is collecting that paycheck.

Theirs lots of complaining about how ugly the county is becoming but it seems no one is listening.

You ever notice how the same names go hand in hand with Fishy Politics? Isn't Ms. Blanks the same person who was testing the "Voting System", by trying to Vote TWICE? It would be nice if they would funnel all of their PAC money into helping those of us who are just "trying to survive" because of so called Transparency & Politics? We, the Taxpayers, have been "Transparent" for a long time now!!!

You got one of the names right in this article. In an interview about her life, she stated one of her main purposes the rest of her time in politics was to get "her people" elected or in positions in Bladen County government. Look around and you will see she is being extremely successful.

Don't ho;d your breath til someone in need is helped. Has getting "her people" elected or in positions helped Bladen County improve yet? I think not.

The name of this group is misrepresentation at its highest. It should be Bladen County Get "Our" People Elected Committee. The already filled out ballots and Mrs. Blanks as much as admitted in an interview about her life that her soul purpose while she is stil in office is to help as many of "her people" get elected as possible. Notice, not to get in positions the best qualified but "her people". One must admit, she is doing a pretty good job of it: three on the county commission board "maybe more if one considers the "other people" that may be in her corner, the county tax department head, the animal control head, and God only knows nhow many more in DSS. And let's not forget the little escapade in checking out the voting places to see "if she could vote more than once" like it was her responsiblity!!!!!! I thought we had a board of election with the responsiblity of seeing that didn't happened. Thank God she was stopped at the second polling place. And then tried to make like Mr. Hammonds over at the Board Of Elections knew all about it; but he is one of a few that set her straight on that issue from the get go. Way to go Mr. Hammonds. One can only wonder if she would have voted more than once; "she was cleared" by the State investagator. Evidently, it is possible to vote twice in the early voting period because a former mayoral candidate over in Fairmont was chanrged with it; of course he probably got away with it also because he was "one of her people also" at least by his picture in the paper.

Just found out it is legal for an organization to not only make copies of the ballot, but also to mark that ballot and give it to an individual and tell them to vote just the way that ballot is filled out. The only way it would be illegal woould be if an individual went into the voting booth and put a gun to the voters head and made them vote a certain way against their will. Evidently that is the way one of our General Statutes is interpreted by the State Election Board.

Not the best investigative reporting job. If you want to find the people involved with this organization, committee, PAC, association, etc.; all you got to do is vist the Bladen County Commissioners meeting tonight in the basement of the Bladen County Courthouse at 6:30 p.m. Mr. W.D. Neill, Mrs. Deliah Blanks, Mr. Albert Beatty, and the democratic candidadte for sheriff(who was a former vice-president of the "whatever") might be there. That is unless his current "interim boss" has got him indoctinated not to show up for a meeting with the County Commissioners(remember back over in July when he had promised the County Commissioners he would meet with them and the citizens of Bladen County to answer to them and the citizens as to why refused to have five deputies sworn back in). And he didn't even show up to inform those five (you are right Mr. Interim Sheriff, you did not inform anyone PERSONALLY they were fired) you just sent your non-Bladen County resident part-time deputy (he is now full time while we have people qualified to fill that position) to do that bit of work for you.

Now low and behold, the "interim Sheriff", the non-Bladenite, and the democratic candidate for sheriff have went and hired BELIEVE IT OR NOT a man who opposed the democratic candidate in the spring primary election!!!! Well, I'm just dumb enough to believe that if this new deputy opposed the democratic candidate back in the spring then he must have thought he could run the BCSO better. But five people who supported another deputy in the spring primary were fired. Go figure, to me it seems if one opposes and another opposes then they both oppose!!!!!! By the way, this new deputy, although he was the highest educated of all the candidates, did not have the name recognition in Bladen County politics or business to be a viable candidate. So, WHY DID HE RUN???? That is a question that really needs to be looked into.

In fact, there were five candidates who ran in the spring primary. The bottom three candidates received 25.67% of the vote; those votes
were 2.60%, 9.18%, and 13.89%. At least one of these candidates was from the area of the county where the top vote getter 38.56% was raised. Common sense tells one that the top vote getter could easy have gotten 1.44% of the votes cast for the other candidate who received 13.89% of the vote; if this individual had not been in the race. Not withstanding, anyone has a right to enter any political race if they qualify for the position they are seeking. A lot of Bladen County voters would certianly like to hear testimony from each of these five candidates as to why they ran and then WHO BACKED THEM or talked them into running.

But alas back to the Bladen County electorial saga. The spring primary was behind us and the primary runoff was coming because the top vote getter lacked 1.44% of all votes cast to get a majority of 40%. Here is where the Bladen County Improvement Association, committee, PAC, orgainazation, group, etc. began to come into play. In fact, it has been shown that it was in the the play already in the primary by ballots being marked with their candidates names already filled in and destributed to voters who were of the same persusion as the "committee". Is that legal?

Consider North Carolina General Statute 163-273 (a-7). Now NCGS 163 covers elections and voters and as one can see it is quite lengthy (read it for yourself). This particular statute states, "For any person to aid, or attempt to aid, any voter by means of any mechanical device, or ANY OTHER MEANS WHATEVER, while within the voting enclosure, in marking his ballot", "...shall be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor", and (b)Election officers.....Shall cause charges to be preferred against the person so offending in a court of competent jurisdiction". Now, we all know that no orgaization can hand out any thing; it takes a live human being or machine to do that. But these pre-marked ballots must have the name of the organization(that made the copies) at the top of them. Yes, it is legal to make copies of ballots, but I submit to WWAY, the leaders of any group, our distinguished representatives in Raleigh, and anyone else; that based on NCGS 163 (a-7) and (b) it is not legal to mark that ballot and then a live person give that marked ballot to a voter and tell them to take it into the voting booth and vote exactly the way this ballot is marked.

For those of you who read this, check out NCGS's 163-274(a)(9) and (b); guilty of a class 2 midemeanor. Check out NCGS 163-275 the heading and (2) "Certain acts declared felonies" in fact a Class 1 felony. These NCGS and others spell out why the Bladen County people are getting sick, tired, and fed up with what is going on in our political arena and we are calling for changes. Forget it, you think that we think people are going to come forward and admit to committing misdemeanors and felonies; not when people who are convicted (without a reasonable don't) won't admit to being wrong. We do hope however that people who have been using and have been used by this premarked ballot system, will lay it down, make an informed decision in that voting booth based on their own knowledge of the cndidates, and then vote for the betterment of Bladen County. God save Mother Bladen.

The only way to improve Bladen County is to get jobs in here. Our sewing factories were sent overseas. Although the cost of making items over there is suppose to be less expensive I have not seen any cuts in the prices of the towels I buy , the clothes I buy or the food I buy. As matter of fact everything is more expensive since being sent elsewhere to be processed or made or whatever. Now I buy my clothes out of season and on sale because I can not afford to buy otherwise... Just wish I could buy food like that.

Concerned about no jobs in Bladen here...

Clean up the eyesores in Bladen, and you might attract clean industry. Time for county leaders to rise above the redneck values mentality.

The next time you do some reporting about what is going on in Bladen County politics please go to the North Carolina General Statutes covering the particular subject (in this case elections and voting felonies and misdemeanors) and see that these NCGS will tell you what can and can not be done in relationship to the voting place and ballots. Three NCGS's in particular relate to what is going on in Bladen County:

NCGS 162-273 (a-7) abd (b)
NCGS 162-274 (a-9) and (b)
NCGS 162-275 the heading and (2)

If you are having trouble getting up with some of the members of the distinguished committee in your article, I would suggest you go to the Bladen County Commissioners meeting on October 4 at 6:30 p.m. on the basement floor of the Bladen County courthouse. You should find at least two of the members there (maybe even the president)on the board of commissioners and you might even find the former vice-president of the committee there unless his interim boss has told him not to go just like he didn't show up to face the people of Bladen County and the commissioners back in July.

Do some investigating and you might just be surprised what you will find; but first, read the Statutes so you will know exactly what you are looking for. You already have one piece of evidence in the filled out ballot that was prepared by this committee. True, they or any one else can make a copy of the ballot long as they put their organizations name on it; but when a ballot is filled out and then given to a voter and the voter is told to go into the voting enclosure and vote exactly like the filled out ballot is prepared; at that moment a Class 2 misdemeanor has been committed by the person giving the ballot to a voter. And I'm not so sure that a misdemeanor is not committed by the voter in accepting it and doing as they were told. One thing is for sure, if anything "of value" was offered for the voter to vote as per the filled out ballot; then a Class 1 felony has been committed. Wonder how many felons "who may not know they are felons" will be out in force between Ootober 14 and November 2.

Candidates can use their own money in their campaigns and political donations can be made to their campaigns, but when that money is used to "buy votes" or promises are made that "postions or favors" will be given for votes then THE LAW HAS BEEN BROKEN plain and simple.

Have you ever asked yourself how does a candidate in the spring primary currrently work in the department that he was running to head up and in addtion to that he is currently working for the man he ran against. Sounds like he might have thought he could run the department better than his opponent. Yet others who thought so were dismissed from the department; five if I make no misstake. The only problem you will run into with this deeper investigation is that these things are done in secret; meetings, promises, money passed, favors granted. So who is going to step forward and admit they have committed a felony?!!!! You almost had one when someone admitted they were one of the founding members but had got out because of the influence of "money". Indeed the "love of it is the root of all evil"; now that is something you don't have to investigate, it is forever settled in heaven.

Good reporting, just not deep enough. Be sure and read those statutes.

If you are going to do investigative reporting, why not go to the North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS) that cover the particular subject and lay them down beside what you are reporting on? Then you will not have to make such statements as "While it appears what thet're doing is legal"!!!!

Go to NCGS's 163-273 Subsection (a-7) and (b);
" " " 163-274 (2)
" " " 163-275 Subsection (a-9)

These three NCGS's alone will tell you that people are blatantly violating these NCGS's and committing felonies and misdemeanors. It is the responsiblity of the law enforcement officoals of any given county in North Carolina (including Bladen) to arrest these people and prosecute them. But don't count on it because these felonies and misdemeanors are being committed in secret and don't forget that the former vice-president of the organization alledgedly involved in this activity is a member of the BCSO. You know it just so hard to get a person to admit they are involved in felonies and misdemeanors; but if you will read these NCGS's you will see that it is going on.

NCGS 163-273 (a-7) plainly states "For any person to aid, or attempt to aid, any voter by means of any mechanical device, or ANY OTHER MEANS whatever, while within the voting encloseure, in marking his ballot" shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor and election officers shall cause any person committing any of these offenses set forth in Subsection (a) to be arrested and charges to be preferred against such person. I take this to mean that if I fill out a ballot and give it to you and tell you to vote the same way the names are marked on the ballot that I indead have committed a misdemeanor. Other violations are considered felonies. Wonder how many felons will be running around Bladen County starting October 14 through November 2.

Don't let anyone tell you who to vote for and certainly don't let anyone give you a ballot already filled out and tell you to take it into the voting booth and vote exactly like the ballot is filled out. If you need help when you get to the voting place, Mr. Larry Hammonds and the Board of Elections have people there to assist you.

If you want to find out about the legality of what this asscoation is doing, then go to North Carolina General Statute 163-273 (a-1)(b); 163-274 (a-9)(b); and 163-275 (2). Many of the activities that get out the vote people are involved in are either felonies or misdemeanors. The problem is proving it. As one of the members of the BCIA said not too long ago about voting in Bladen County, I'll tell anybody why I did it about the "vote early and vote often mentality of some people. And bless God, this person was found innocent; are we sure this investigation wasn't done by the SBI lab instaed of the SBOE!!!!!

Just quoting WWAY in their article about the get out the vote in Bladen County. The Bladen County Improvement Association by you is quoted as being in a situation, "where candidates pay people to round up votes for them".

If in your investigative reporting you would check the General Statutes of this great State, you might be surprised what you would find. Like NCGS 162 covers the Sheriff's office and I won't dare go there in this response; however if you will go up one more NCGS to 163 you will find the Statute covering voting. It is quite lengthy as one would imagine and takes considerable time to read; so I'll just cut to the chase as the old saying goes.

Take a close look at NCGS 163-275 Sections (1) and (2) and if what you say about the BCIA is true then we may possibly have a whole lot of felons running around and some of them may be in elected office, trying to get into elected OFFICE, AND HOPEFULLY SOME WILL BE PUT OUT OF ELECTED OFFICE SHORTLY LIKE ON NOVEMBER 2. I am by no means a legal expert but I do submit to you that I can read.

NCGS 163-275 Section (2) states CERTAIN ACTS DECLARED FELONIES-Any person who shall in any conection with any primary, general, or special election held in this State do any of the acts or things declared in this section to be unlawful, shall be guilty of a Class 1 felony. It shall be unlawful FOR ANY PERSON TO GIVE OR PROMISE OR REQUEST OR ACCEPT AT ANY TIME, BEFORE OR AFTER ANY SUCH PRIMARY OR ELECTION, ANY MONEY, PROPERTY OR OTHER THING OF VALUE WHATSOEVER IN RETURN FOR THE VOTE OF ANY ELECTOR.

Now, I'm not the smartest person in the world; but I do understand that if I go out and PAY people to vote for me or if I go out and PAY someone to round up votes for me that there is good chance I have committed a felony and the people I have PAID to do it are in the same boat. Ckeck that, not a good chance but based on NCGS 163-275 Section (2) I have in fact committed a felony.

It seems to me that it is the sworn duty of law enforcement people to arrest felons. In your article you state that one of the men running for sheriff in the November election (oh well let's just go ahead and say what you said that Prentice Benston was at one time vice-president of BCIA before he resigned) was a member of Bladen County Improvement Association. Look at the other people in this association!!!

TO THE VOTERS OF BLADEN COUNTY-I believe most of us are already members of BECFAP-BLADEN ELECTORAL COMMITTEE FOR ALL PEOPLE!!!! This is just a little committee I thought up because all us Bladenites (just over 32,000) and registered voters (just shy of 22,000) are realy members of it. Yes, our children and others who are not registered to vote (about 10,000) are expectiing BECFAP to stand up come October 14 through November 2 and show BCIA that we mean to BETTER BLADEN COUNTY. If anyone tries to hand you a previously marked ballot to take into that voting booth and use as a guide on who to vote for, throw it back in their face; check that, tear it up first and then throw it back in their face. Because, if the entire NCGS 163 is read; somewhere in there, one will find, and I quote, "The person rendering assistance shall not in ANY MANNER seek to induce any voter to cast any vote in any particular way". What the penalty is for doing that I can not remember; but rest assured BCIA, it will be penalized sooner or later. If not before, surely it will be when we all, BLADEN ELECTORAL COMMITTEE FOR ALL PEOPLE, stand before the JUDGE that will judge righteously. Hope for your own eternal well being as well as the well being of ALL Bladen County that BCIA will remember this when they meet in their "secret meetings" because I have not seen one of their meetings publicized. Maybe they should all take the democratic candidates lead and get out of this organization; excuse me, association.

God bless the Bladen County voter and each candidate running for office. By the way, BECFAP, does have a voting philosophy and it is "one vote for each voter"; we have never approved of the "vote early and vote often" philosophy adhered to by a certain menber of BCIA, even if we are just "checking the system to see if people are being allowed to vote more than once". But, if I am a member of an association that believes in paying people to vote for me then I can certainly see how I could try to vote twice to "test the system". Thank God the poll workers caught that and did not allow it; hence going back to BECFAL's voting philosophy of "one vote for one voter". Now that is a great idea.

Have a great day Mother Bladen and thank you WWAY and Bladenonline for giving us the opportunity to respond.