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The tiny town of Sharpsburg made national news for all the wrong reasons last week.
Mayor-elect Robert Williams Jr.’s arrest on drunken driving charges — less than an hour after the polls closed in Tuesday’s election and before he’d been unofficially declared the winner — proved to be irresistible clickbait throughout and far beyond North Carolina.
In addition to stories in The Wilson Times and the Rocky Mount Telegram, coverage of the incident appeared in The Daily Reflector of Greenville, the News & Observer of Raleigh, The Charlotte Observer and on the websites of television stations WRAL, WTVD, WITN, CBS 17 and Spectrum News.
But that’s not all.
The national press got hold of the story, too. KDKA in Pittsburgh and CBS 8 San Diego featured Williams’ run-in with the law, as did Fox News, The Daily Caller and U.S. News & World Report. The arrest even crossed the pond, earning a spot on British newspaper The Daily Mail’s website.
Williams managed to put the town’s name in front of tens of millions of eyeballs, but this isn’t the kind of publicity Sharpsburg needs.
Sharpsburg police stopped Williams’ Dodge Ram pickup truck after a caller alerted officers to a careless and reckless driver. Officer William Bruesch located the truck and pulled Williams over at 8:05 p.m. Tuesday after observing that the driver couldn’t stay in his lane.
Police say a test gauged Williams’ blood-alcohol level at 0.13. Officers found a .380-caliber handgun near or underneath his seat. And Police Chief John Hunt said Williams resisted arrest, struggling with two officers as they tried to place him in handcuffs.
Williams was driving home from Sharpsburg Town Hall, a polling place in Tuesday’s election, when officers made the traffic stop.
The mayor-elect faces six misdemeanor charges; driving while impaired, possession of a concealed firearm, possession of a firearm after consuming alcohol, possession of a firearm on government property and two counts of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer; along with one traffic infraction, failure to maintain lane control.
While Williams deserves his day in court and all suspects enjoy the constitutional presumption of innocence — criminal charges are just formal allegations — it’s clear to us that his poor judgment should give Sharpsburg voters a serious case of buyers’ remorse.
Under North Carolina law, only felony convictions legally disqualify an elected official from serving. Williams could be convicted on all counts and still hold the gavel at Sharpsburg town meetings.
Could the Sharpsburg Board of Commissioners remove Williams? Probably not. Since he did not hold public office at the time of his arrest, the scant remedies offered in state statutes don’t apply.
Amotion, a common-law form of removal, was used twice in 2013 and is currently being employed to unseat Fayetteville City Councilman Tyrone Williams, who was captured on video asking a hotel developer for a $15,000 payment in exchange for his assistance. Williams hasn’t committed malfeasance in office because he hasn’t yet taken office. It isn’t certain the amotion process would pass legal muster in this unique case.
Incumbent Mayor Randy Weaver has not conceded the race and is awaiting a formal decision during election canvasses in Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties, which all contain a portion of the Sharpsburg town limits. Williams won by a razor-thin margin of seven votes. If that tally holds, the office is his.
Sharpsburg residents and commissioners may be stuck with Williams until the next election unless he chooses to step down. It’s clear to us he’s lost the public’s confidence and should decline to take the oath of office as mayor.
There’s simply no excuse for the egregious behavior of which Williams stands accused. The mayor-elect is a U.S. Army veteran and former Rocky Mount police officer. Driving drunk with a hidden handgun and fighting with the cops? Don’t tell us he didn’t know better.
Williams should resign for the good of the town he professes to love. If he won’t, Sharpsburg could be in for a turbulent start to his four-year term.