04/11/06 — Primary will decide two Duplin races

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Primary will decide two Duplin races

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 11, 2006 1:46 PM

Duplin County voters will determine in May who will get the Clerk of Court's job and the District 2 seat on the county Board of Education.

With no Republicans in either race, the May 2 Democratic primary will decide the two positions.

State law permits registered voters to begin casting early ballots Thursday. In Duplin, voters must go to the Board of Elections office at 160 Mallard St. in Kenansville to cast an early ballot. Both registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters may cast ballots in the Democratic primary.

In the Clerk of Court race, incumbent Katie Harrell faces a challenge by fellow Democrat Hubert Merritt.

In the school board race, incumbent Johnni Blackwell faces a challenge by fellow Democrat Jennings Outlaw.

Two other school board seats are up for election, but no one filed to challenge Republican Emily Manning, who holds the District 3 seat, and Chuck Farrior, a Democrat, is the only candidate who filed for the District 4 seat.


Duplin County Clerk of Court Katie Harrell, 44, a Democrat, has served as Clerk of Court for the past three years. She said the job is challenging but that she enjoys working for the public and wants to continue to serve.

Her job calls for more than just supervising staff, she said.

"With some of the larger counties, the clerk does more of the supervisor duties. In a rural county with 16 employees, though, the clerk helps out. I get in there and roll my sleeves up and work," Mrs. Harrell said.

To assist in the process, Mrs. Harrell said she would like to implement a cross-training program in which each employee learns the tasks of other staff members so the public can always be met by someone who is able to help them.

Mrs. Harrell previously served as a magistrate in Duplin for seven years. The Beulaville resident received her law degree from the North Carolina Central School of Law.


Hubert "Pepsi" Merritt said that if he is, if elected, he would work diligently for the people of Duplin County. Merritt, 63, currently works as a math teacher at North Duplin High School and James Sprunt Community College. He previously worked as an administrator and manager of a textile company after receiving a mathematics degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A resident of Warsaw, he said the skills he acquired in his previous jobs would serve him well as Clerk of Court.

"I think I'm well-qualified and this has been a goal of mine for the past 10 years. I think it's time to run," Merritt said. "If elected, I would consider it a privilege and an honor to work for the citizens of Duplin County."

In the race for the District 2 seat on the county Board of Education, incumbent Johnni Blackwell faces a challenge by fellow Democrat Jennings Outlaw. The district includes most of the northeastern part of the county.


In her second year in office, Democrat Johnni Blackwell, 61, said she considers her main focus to be the well-being of Duplin's children.

"I'm very interested in the school system. I want these children to get an education and I believe something that is very important is character education. I'm want that as curriculum for the children in the future," Mrs. Blackwell said.

Building the children's character and providing them with every facet of education before their high school graduation will prevent students from falling through the cracks during college or when they enter the job market, she said.

For the past six years Mrs. Blackwell has worked in an administrative position with the state Department of Agriculture. She also worked as a U.S. Department of Agriculture program automation and agricultural program specialist for 33 years.

The Albertson resident holds a business degree from Shaw University and Raleigh Business College. Mrs. Blackwell has represented District 2 for the past two years and said she wants another term to continue to help guide the improvement of the county's school system.

She said she believes the school board and the Duplin County Board of Commissioners should have more joint retreats to increase communication between the groups and discuss the issues facing the children.

"If you don't communicate, you can't move on," she said.


Jennings Outlaw said county officials and school board members should focus more on the critical problems in schools. For example, he said, B.F. Grady Middle School was built to accommodate about 430 students, but it currently houses more than 800, he said.

Outlaw said that the $30 million it would cost to build a new high school could be used to help out other schools around the county. He said the school board should begin to focus more on enforcing discipline within the classrooms, which would encourage experienced teachers to stay on the job.

Outlaw works as a facilities maintenance manager for the state Department of Health and Human Services. He received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University and a master's degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Outlaw, 51, said he would like to see Duplin County schools continue to provide quality education as it has for his family since the late 1920s.

"I grew up in this area. I went to East Duplin High School. My son goes to East Duplin. I think our schools are great and my family has been in these schools since the late 1920s and early 1930s. I want to help ensure our schools are the best they can be for now and future generations," he said.