Cumberland County Republicans charge that an incumbent Democrat is confusing residents by running for the last year of an unexpired term on the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

But the real confusion might occur should Cumberland County Freeholder James Dunkins win the November election.

Dunkins claims he will take office in January if he wins election to the final year of the unexpired term. A legal opinion by an assistant county counsel states that whoever wins the election takes office immediately. And Cumberland County Republican leader Robert Greco alleges that Dunkins could wind up an illegal dual office holder.

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The situation began on Aug. 2, when Democrat Louis Magazzu resigned from the freeholder board after nude photographs of himself that he sent to an alleged Internet girlfriend surfaced online. The freeholders wound up appointing Charles Thomas, the 77-year-old former chairman of the Cumberland County College board of trustees, to fill the vacancy on an interim basis.

Dunkins is finishing his first term as a freeholder. He opted not to seek a second term, saying he needed to devote more time to his family and his church.

However, Cumberland County Democrats convinced Dunkins to run for the last year of Magazzu's term.

On Aug. 16, Cumberland County Assistant County Counsel Kim Procopio wrote in a letter to Cumberland County Counsel Brendan Kavanagh that whoever is appointed to fill Magazzu's seat - in this case, Thomas - does so on in interim basis "until the general election is held in November."

"Following certification of that election, the person elected to the unexpired term is immediately sworn in and takes office," Procopio wrote. "Unlike those persons elected for a full term, the person elected to the unexpired term does not await the reorganization meeting to take their seat."

Dunkins said that, should he win, it is his understanding that he would not be sworn in to the last year of Magazzu's seat until the freeholder board's January reorganization meeting. Thomas will continue serving on an interim basis until that time, he said.

Should that all happen, Robert Greco contends Dunkins would illegally hold two freeholder seats: the one to which he was elected three years ago, and the one that covers the rest of Magazzu's term.

Officials with the state Division of Elections declined comment, referring questions to Cumberland County Clerk Gloria Noto.

"If this is what the county chairman believes, I'm sure he wouldn't make those statements if he felt it wasn't the proper thing to do," said Noto, a Republican.

Noto said there have been no formal challenges to the election.

"We really don't make any decisions on it thus far," she said. "My deputy (clerk) has told me that, unless we have a court order, we would continue to put (Dunkins') name on the ballot. The ballots are printed. Only a judge's order can change it."

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