If Hertford council won’t check Jackson, voters must

With most of the region’s political attention focused right now on the upcoming special election in the 3rd Congressional District, it’s easy to forget the other elections that typically grab notice in even-numbered years.

That’s likely not the case in Hertford, however, where one would expect voters are keenly anticipating their town’s upcoming election in November. At least we hope they are.

There is a lot at stake. Specifically, control of the town’s governing board. Two of Hertford Town Council’s four seats are up for election, as is the mayor’s seat. Since the mayor is a voting member of the council, the three people elected in November will effectively decide whether the town’s government continues on its current path or that path changes.

That change is needed should be evident to anyone who’s either attended a Hertford Town Council meeting or read an account of one over the past year. Much of the blame for the controversies that have engulfed the town is deservedly Quentin Jackson’s, who, despite past multiple run-ins with the law, was elected to the council on his fourth try in November 2017.

Jackson hasn’t let public service stand in the way of his narcissistic, immature, and at times lawless behavior. Since taking office he’s been arrested no fewer than five times and even been taken to civil court by a cousin. In two of those arrests — for resisting a police officer and assault on a government official — Jackson was found guilty by a judge and sentenced to short jail terms. He’s served neither sentence, however, because he appealed the judge’s verdict to Superior Court and no trial has been scheduled. In a third, he actually did serve an 11-day jail sentence after a Superior Court judge ordered his arrest for failing to show up for a court hearing. Jackson is currently awaiting trial for a fourth arrest — he’s charged with felony perjury for allegedly lying in court about being on probation for another offense during his District Court trial last year on the resisting a police officer charge.

Up until recently, Jackson’s peers on Hertford Town Council managed to keep his worst instincts in check. Those moderating influences seem to have gone out the window, however, with Archie Aples’ departure from the council at the beginning of the year. Aples was replaced by Gracie Felton, who, along with fellow Councilor Frank Norman, now seem to be going along with whatever Jackson wants to do.

This seemed painfully evident last month when Jackson, the council’s newly elected mayor pro tem, held a press conference to criticize the District Attorney’s Office for not following through on the town police chief’s request for an investigation of firearms missing from the Hertford Police Department. Jackson claimed that 18-25 guns were missing, and suggested the culprits were former town police officers. Both Felton and Norman appeared to play along with Jackson’s outrage, taking his claims at face value. It turned out, however, that only three firearms were missing, and the District Attorney’s Office had in fact followed through on the chief’s request — to the degree that two of the weapons were  recovered and returned to the department.

Norman and Felton also stood by recently and allowed Jackson to exact revenge on their fellow councilor, Sid Eley — the government official Jackson was found guilty earlier this year of punching following a council meeting last October. Jackson first informed Eley the town was unceremoniously booting him from the Hertford Volunteer Department — an organization Eley’s served for 49 years. Then citing a town policy prohibiting extra payments to elected officials, he told Eley he would have to pay back $6,100 he’s received from the town — as all Hertford volunteer firefighters do — as compensation for responding to calls and in contributions to his state firefighter pension. 

Jackson described Eley as “unfit” for the Hertford Fire Department. At 72, Eley has already said he plans to retire from the fire department after next year — his 51st, beating the longevity record of another volunteer firefighter. Jackson’s call for his removal now, with Eley short of that goal, seems targeted at Eley personally. So does his call for Eley to return the payments. No other previous councilors who served as volunteer firefighters have similarly been told return their payments from the town.

Given the Hertford Volunteer Fire Department is a nonprofit organization which only receives money from the town for equipment and facilities, Jackson’s moves against Eley seem legally dubious. However, the fact they likely would be overturned in court — should Eley choose to contest them — doesn’t diminish the chill everyone should feel when someone in elected office feels empowered to misuse their authority to go after their opponents.

Because make no mistake, that is what Jackson is doing. Obviously he’s concerned about his upcoming trial on the felony perjury charge. If he’s convicted, he’ll lose his right to vote, which also means he’ll lose his council seat. That is why he targeted the District Attorney’s Office with the missing gun allegations, attempting to portray it as uninterested in pursuing crimes committed by former law enforcement officials but all too willing to prosecute him.

This is of course the risk voters run when they elect someone with Jackson’s faults of self-centeredness, disdain for the truth and civil norms, and bent for revenge. Jackson, who is in the middle of a four-year term, won’t be on the Hertford ballot this fall. But the town’s future will be. Here’s hoping Hertford voters clearly understand that.

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