The five candidates for City Councilman Lee Harris’ vacated District 7 position who seemed to lack the requisite number of valid voter signatures on their nominating petitions can breathe easier. A fresh opinion by Council attorney Allan Wade gives them new life and the opportunity to become eligible, along with Barbara Swearengen Holt Ware and Bryan Carson, the two candidates whose signature counts had previously been declared complete and valid.
The five who now have until Thursday, January 15, to complete their petitions with valid signatures are: Berlin Boyd, with 23 signatures ruled valid as of last Thursday, January 8, which had previously been regarded as the deadline date; Curtis Byrd Jr, also with 23 signatures; Audrey Jones, with 24; Charles Leslie, with 15; and David Pool, with 24.
Since Pool had turned in a 25th name shortly after the previous presumed deadline, he was presumably qualified automatically by Wade’s ruling.
Wade’s ruling was in the form of a letter to Council chairman Myron Lowery and vice chairman Kemp Conrad.
The letter begins as follows:
Several Council Members have inquired about the procedure for replacing Council member Lee Harris, who resigned effective January 12, 2015. At the request of Chairman Lowery and Vice-Chairman Conrad, I have investigated the matter. The applicable provisions of the Charter and the Council’s Rules of Procedure are listed below.
After reviewing portions of the charter provisions relating to residence and general eligibility, Wade’s letter cites this significant line:
Signatures of twenty-five (25) registered voters residing in the Council district in which the vacancy exists shall be obtained.
On Sunday, Robert Meyers, chairman of the Election Commission, had commented that the 25-signature quota, which applies to candidates filing for Council seat during regular election period, was not regarded by the Commission as applying to interim appointments but that the city charter might require the quota.
That was indeed the case, as Wade notes. His next sentence pronounces on the matter of a deadline:
Said signatures and proof of residency shall be submitted to the Shelby County Election Commission on a form which includes a sworn, affirmative statement regarding the residency of the candidate by noon on the Thursday preceding the Tuesday meeting when the Council shall fill the vacancy.
And a subsequent declaration by Wade opens the door for the five previously denied candidates to revive their candidacies:
While the Council set a different and earlier deadline for qualifying to give the Election Commission adequate time to process the petitions, the Council’s rule provides each candidate with an absolute deadline. This deadline does not end until noon, Thursday, January 15, 2015. It is our opinion that the – 4 – January 12, 2015
Council’s Rule can only be modified by an affirmative vote of seven (7) council members and then only prospectively. Any person who has sought to qualify before the rule is changed isentitled to rely on the rule.
The Council plans to elect Harris' successor during its meeting of Tuesday, January 20.