The City of Clarksdale will hold its regular June General Election for Mayor, but Scotty Meredith’s name will not be on the ballot.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last week not to delay the city’s general election after Meredith filed a motion to suspend this summer’s election until the validity of his residency claim is decided by that court.
While the court has not ruled on the legitimacy of Meredith’s residency appeal, it did agree to expedite his case. Exactly when justices might hear Meredith’s appeal is up to the court and could be as early as next week.
Meredith’s attorney filed papers on May 7 asking the court to expedite his appeal after it was ruled March 18 by Coahoma County Special Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth that Meredith did not meet the residency requirement to be allowed on the ballot. That was also the ruling of the Clarksdale Municipal Democratic Committee a month earlier.
The court ruled Wednesday afternoon May 12, to allow the Clarksdale election and speed Meredith’s appeal through the court.
Before the panel of Mississippi Supreme Court Dist. 1 Justice Leslie King, Dist. 3 Justice Josiah Coleman and Dist. 2 Justice David Ishee, the court reviewed Meredith plea for a stay and to expedite his case.
The justices said: “Therefore, the appeal in this matter should be expedited pursuant to the statute,” justices went on to say. “The panel further finds that the request to stay the June 8, 2021, general election should be denied.”
The state’s high court is also waiting for the lower court to send the case file up and for attorneys for both sides to enter briefs with the court.
At some point, to be determined by the court, Meredith’s appeal will be set on the docket.
If the case does go on the docket, the court could ask for attorneys for both sides to argue their case and rule or they could review documents and points of the case submitted by attorneys and rule. Justices could also decide to not hear the case and let the lower court’s ruling stand.
After Judge Howorth’s ruling in March, incumbent Mayor Chuck Espy, a Democrat, was declared the lone candidate and winner of the Democratic Primary. Espy faces Independent candidate for mayor Cassandra Wilson on June 8.
The high court has asked the lower court to have the case to them by May 25 which is just two weeks before the June 8 general election.
As of Tuesday it is not known when the State Supreme Court might rule to expedite the case or how they might set it on the docket.
Meredith initially sued the Clarksdale Municipal Democratic Committee after they ruled he had not lived inside the city limits – as required by state law – for the past two years. That sent the case to Howorth’s court.
Howorth based his decision on three points of law:
• Meredith provided conflicting addresses in an effort to establish residency in the City of Clarksdale for two years immediately preceding the day of election.
• Meredith changed his voter registration to an address on his qualifying papers with the city, which is not his legal place of residence.
• That as of March 18, the Merediths “have continuously enjoyed the benefits of homestead exemption on their home located in Coahoma County at 116 Meredith Road, Alligator, Mississippi, outside the City of Clarksdale.”
Howorth’s ruling followed six hours of testimony that covered everything from who saw Meredith living at his 314 E. Second apartment and why he did not live at his lake house to his homestead exemption records, federal tax filings, driver’s license and voting records.
A new opinion by the Mississippi Attorney General just two days before the final qualifying day Feb. 5, expanded the scope of the state law to municipalities saying a candidate must live in the ward in which they are seeking office for two years. The previous residency requirement was one year.
At one point this winter, there were six residency requirement cases working their way through courts across Mississippi following that last minute ruling that deals with city elections. These type cases are typically expedited by the Mississippi Supreme Court since elections are being held.
Clarksdale held the April 6 primary without the race for mayor on the ballot. Voters in the April 6 primary only voted for city commissioners and all four incumbents, who all had challengers, were re-elected.
Espy’s attorney Amanda Tollison pointed out Meredith had voted in Rena Laura and used 116 Meredith Road in Alligator as his address. She presented his Coahoma County Homestead Exemption records from 2017 to 2020 that listed the 116 Meredith Road address. Tollison also pointed out while Meredith claimed his 314 E. Second apartment as his home there were other documents – driver’s license, candidate filing papers, a half dozen car titles and utility bills – that implied he didn’t.
Perhaps the most incriminating evidence was Meredith admitting he had put down his mother-in-law’s address on his qualifying papers presented to the city seeking the post of Mayor.
Meredith countered that he was told to use that address by County Democratic Executive Committee member Ray Sykes when he filed for the coroner’s race in 2019. Meredith has been coroner for 25 years.
Meredith told the court Sykes said he could not use the E. Second address, which is also the location of Meredith-Nowell Funeral Home, since it was a business address. Meredith said he initially wrote down the 314 E. Second address, then erased it and used his mother-in-law’s address at 1128 Park Circle to run in the city race.
Meredith’s attorney Jamie Lee, said the community knows where Meredith lives and she presented documentation and a string of witnesses who said Meredith had been living at the 314 E. Second apartment at the funeral home downtown for two years. Lee’s evidence included a city permit to do plumbing at the apartment and contractors who had remodeled the apartment and installed security systems.
Lee also brought in witnesses who said Meredith moved from the 116 Meredith Road address after flooding in 2018 and Meredith’s daughter now lived at the lake house in Alligator.
Meredith admitted the homestead exemption records, his driver’s license and car tags had not been updated. He said one of the signatures on the Rena Laura voter roll did not appear to be his.
Contesting residency is not new to Clarksdale and accusations of exactly where a candidate “stays” were part of the 2017 campaign when Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals challenged the residency of Darron “Gucci” Griffin.
Allegations of supervisors and even judges not living where they formally say they do have been points of discussion in the community for years. Secretary of State Michael Watson was in Clarksdale in February and said the abuse is rampant across the state. Watson said he felt the Mississippi Supreme Court was poised to give some clarity to the issue. Meredith’s appeal, if it makes it to court, will help set that legal precedent.
The court has ruled that “a person’s domicile in election matters is the place where he has his true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment, and to which whenever he is absent, he has intention of returning.”
Qualifications vary from office to office but the main requirements are to be a resident and qualified voter from the ward, district, city or county a candidate plans to represent. Candidates may not have been convicted of a federal crime or certain state crimes defined as felonies punishable by incarceration in a state penitentiary, unless they have received a full pardon. They also may not be convicted of a crime in another state that is considered a felony under Mississippi law.
Candidates cannot have been legally declared mentally incompetent.
The Mayor of Clarksdale is paid $86,421 a year, plus expenses. Commissioners get $26,650 annually, plus expenses.
Filing false information about a voter’s true residency and knowingly voting in an incorrect ward can be a felony. This was also brought out in Meredith’s hearing in March.
When registering to vote, a person signs a card saying they will inform the Circuit Clerk if they change address. The court has upheld signing that card as an affidavit of fact or oath that can be used in court as evidence of election fraud.
Candidates must fill out a statement of economic interest online within 15 days of qualifying with the Secretary of State and routinely throughout the year. The first campaign finance report deadline was March 30 and the next is June 1 for any contribution over $200. Failure to file these reports can also result in fines and possible removal from office.
Motion for Expedited Review and Motion to Stay
“Before the panel of King, P.J., Coleman and Ishee, JJ., is the Motion for Expedited Review and Motion to Stay filed by counsel for Scotty Meredith. On March 23, 2021, the Circuit Court of Coahoma County entered its final judgment from which the appeal is taken. The same day, Meredith filed his Notice of Appeal. On May 5, 2021, more than six weeks after the Notice of Appeal was filed, Meredith asked the Court to expedite the appeal and stay the June 8, 2021, mayoral election for the City of Clarksdale.
“Pursuant to the Mississippi Code, “[t]he appeal shall be immediately docketed in the Supreme Court and referred to the court en banc upon briefs without oral argument unless the court shall call for oral argument, and shall be decided at the earliest possible date, as a preference case over all others.” Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-963(8). Therefore, the appeal in this matter should be expedited pursuant to the statute. The panel further finds that the request to stay the June 8, 2021, general election should be denied.
“IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion for Expedited Review and Motion to Stay is granted in part and denied in part.
“SO ORDERED, May 12, 2021.”