Robeson County elections board delays ruling on Pembroke mayoral election

By Ben Rappaport  

Greg Cummings and his family used to visit Gary Locklear’s house every Christmas Eve to share stories and break bread in joyous tradition. 

But Cummings didn’t show up last December. 

The two men were high school classmates who later bonded over decades spent in the Robeson County political arena. Cummings has served two terms as Pembroke mayor after spending several years on the town council. Locklear, a former assistant district attorney, retired as a superior court judge. 

While the two still consider each other close friends, Locklear no longer supports Cummings as mayor of their hometown. He now finds himself in the corner of Cummings’ longtime political foe, Allen Dial.

“Allen believes in good honest government,” Locklear said. “And now he’s got me rooting for him.” 

Cummings and Dial have been locked in a political quagmire since the November election, when Dial won by 19 votes. Cummings challenged the results all the way to Wake County Superior Court, where he argued that at least 11 voters cast ballots from outside town limits. 

Following an evidentiary hearing on Tuesday, the Robeson County Board of Elections was expected to decide the next step: Dismiss Cummings’ protest and allow Dial to become mayor, recount the votes, or order a new election. But the board delayed its decision, citing a possible conflict of interest surrounding Locklear.  

During the hearing, Dial said Locklear helped him with an affidavit he filed as part of a court motion in February. 

Gary Cummings, left, and Allen Dial

Following his retirement, and leading up to the November election last year, Locklear worked as a part-time assistant county attorney, according to current county attorney Robert Davis. Locklear has since left the role. 

Davis said he was unsure whether Locklear’s helping Dial while working as an attorney for the county would violate the rules of the North Carolina State Bar

The revelation led the elections board to move into a brief closed session on Tuesday, leaving the matter in limbo. 

After the hearing, Locklear said he did not believe his advice to Dial was a conflict because he was acting as a private citizen and never legally represented Dial. 

“When I’m not at the county office, I’m free to do what I want to do,” Locklear said. “I assisted on my own time.”

Locklear said he believed Cummings’ attorney flagged the potential conflict of interest to further delay the proceedings.

“He has delayed at every turn,” Locklear said. “Working with them seems to be like working out the terms of a treaty.”  

Rivalry runs deep

The Dial vs. Cummings political battle goes back decades in Pembroke. The men served together on the Pembroke Town Council for 14 years, but they rarely agreed. Dial said he was often a “lone soldier” voting against the majority of the four-member board.

The town council feuds spilled into mayoral races. The state ordered a redo of the 2015 election after Cummings raised concerns about voter irregularities. Dial protested the redo results when Cummings was named the winner, but his claims of a vote-buying scheme were dismissed by election officials. In 2019, Cummings defeated Dial by 40 votes.

Last November’s mayoral race between the familiar foes was no different. The Robeson County Board of Elections initially dismissed Cummings’ election protest, as did the state Board of Elections. Cummings then appealed to the Wake County Superior Court, where Judge Paul Ridgeway ordered the Robeson County board to host a new hearing. 

The board’s move on Tuesday means Cummings will continue to serve as mayor until the matter is resolved. Dial said he was frustrated. 

“This whole thing is a ghost hunt,” he said. “They’re looking for anything they can. They just want to keep dragging it on and on so he (Cummings) can stay.” 

Cummings did not respond to multiple phone calls from the Border Belt Independent.

‘Totality of circumstances’

Jonathan Charleston, an attorney representing Cummings, said during Tuesday’s hearing that Robeson County has a history of election mishaps. He said the “totality of circumstances must be considered.” 

“There were some bad acts led by Mr. Dial,” Charleston said. “And he has a history of leading these kinds of acts.”

Hart Miles, an attorney representing Dial, said Cummings did not have sufficient evidence to change the outcome of the election.  

“They have to prove that there were 19 votes that were compromised in this election,” Miles told the elections board. “We do not believe they have the evidence to do it.”

In the affidavit filed with Locklear’s help, Dial named at least 13 voters whom Cummings had protested as ineligible to vote. Dial’s affidavit identifies their addresses within town limits and said at least six were homeless at the time of the election.

“I did nothing wrong to win this election,” Dial said in the affidavit. 

The evidentiary hearing is tentatively scheduled to resume on July 8 at the Robeson County Board of Elections office in Lumberton.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the North Carolina State Bar as the North Carolina Bar Association.

Pembroke Town Hall.