COOLIDGE- The Coolidge City Council met for Workshop session on Thursday evening, where they swore in a new City Council member, but questioned the qualifying process for other new council members.
The City of Coolidge is scheduled to hold a Special Election on June 20, 2023 for two At-Large positions on City Council. Candidates were supposed to qualify in the office of the City Clerk at City Hall from May 8- 12, paying a qualifying fee of $27.
Two candidates qualified during the specified dates: Tonya Gentry and Freddie Johnson. However, the Board of Elections has now extended the period for a week, allowing for write in candidates.
City Council Member Missy Johnson felt this was a slap in the face to candidates who followed the qualification process.
“Write ins are for partisan type elections, and that’s not what we are having,” Missy said. “I think we need to recognize that and get these two new City Council members sworn in as soon as possible.”
Mayor Diane Causey explained to Missy that it was her understanding the City wait a week to make sure no other write-in candidates qualified.
“Even in general elections there’s no waiting a week for write in candidates,” Missy exclaimed.
Causey promised Missy she would get to the bottom of the situation and exited the session to make several phone calls, while the workshop continued.
Causey then returned, explaining it was common practice to wait a week following the qualifying period, before swearing in candidates if no one else had qualified.
She said she could not be advised to swear in Gentry and Freddie at this time, but was able to swear in At-Large member Todd Braswell, who was unable to be sworn in during their last session.
Missy was in disbelief at hearing this, telling Causey she had spoken to the Superintendent of Elections, who assured her both Gentry and Freddie could be sworn in.
City Clerk Lisa Sheffield was able to shed some light on the issue with an email she had received from Elections Supervisor Frank Scoggins.
“The week after qualifying a person can come in and qualify as a write-in candidate and not pay qualifying fees,” the email read. “The person would not have their name on the ballot, but would have to run an ad in the paper. We don’t normally have this in municipal elections, but it has happened when someone was out of town during qualifying, so let’s wait until you (the City of Coolidge) post there will not be an election due to only two individuals qualifying.”
Missy was unnerved by the email, stating that wasn’t the case when she qualified in 2015.
“It was a whole different conversation when I called up here to this office,” she remarked. “It’s convenient.”
Missy went on to ask what was the point of a qualifying date if no one had to abide by it.
She suggested in the future changing the language to state if the candidates didn’t qualify in the days stated, then they would be unable to run.
“We cannot sit here and make out like this is okay,” Missy told her fellow Council members. “We need to follow the Charter to the degree the Charter was written, or what’s the point in having a Charter?”
Causey reminded Missy that the notice of the election cancellation had not even been posted, so regardless of the one-week waiting period, Freddie and Gentry could not be sworn in.
Missy demanded the posting be made Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
Causey said she would do her best and encouraged Missy to reach out to the Board of Elections in regard to her concerns.
Missy said Coolidge has the power to hold their own elections with their own elections clerk in November, utilizing paper ballots, which she was in favor of.
Following the lengthy discussion of the process, Causey asked the Council if they would like to move forward in swearing in Braswell, which they agreed to.
Braswell was then sworn in and will become a voting council member at the June meeting.
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