Scotty Meredith has until April 14 to pay the fees necessary to appeal his case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, contesting a lower court’s denial to put his name on this week’s ballot seeking the post of Mayor of Clarksdale.
Officially termed an appeal deficiency notice, the document was filed by the state’s high court April 1 and sent Meredith’s attorney of record. The document said if Meredith fails to come up with the money his appeal will be dismissed.
As of Tuesday afternoon, as Clarksdale voted in city elections to name their commissioners, the fee had not been paid.
Judge Andrew Howorth ruled in Coahoma County Circuit Court on March 18, that Meredith failed to prove he had lived in the city limits of Clarksdale the last two year. Meredith’s residency had been protested by incumbent Mayor Chuck Espy and the Clarksdale Democratic Executive Committee upheld Espy’s complaint.
At this point Espy will face Cassandra Wilson, who is running as an independent, in the June 8 General Election.
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 Street apartment and why he did not live at his lake house to his homestead exemption records, federal tax filing, driver’s license and voter record.
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 election. These type cases are typically expedited by the Mississippi Supreme Court since elections are being held.
Meredith’s case could be heard by the state’s highest court this week.
Last week’s ruling prompted ballots to be printed without the race for mayor. Voters in the April 6 primary only voted for city commissioners.
If Meredith is successful in his appeal, the court could put him on the ballot for the primary runoff on April 27, the General Election which is set for June 8, or establish another timeline for the election.
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 East Second Street 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-laws 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 corner’s race in 2019. Meredith has been coroner for 25 years.
Meredith told the court Sykes said he could not use the East Second Street 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 East Second Street 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 Street apartment at the Funeral Home downtown for two years. Lee’s evidence included a city permit to do plumbing at the downtown 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.
The hearing began at 9 a.m., included a break for lunch and finished up at 4:25 p.m.
All four city commissioners’ posts and the Mayor’s office are up for election this spring and qualifying opened Jan. 4 and closed at 5 p.m. sharp, on Friday, Feb. 5.
Espy and Meredith are both running as Democrats.
Espy’s petition challenging Meredith’s domicile was initially presented to City Democratic Executive Committee who ruled Meredith ineligible in February.
The Clarksdale Municipal Democratic Committee is made up of:
Chairman: Norvell Gooden
Ward 1: Gregory Neely
Ward 2: Alfred Allen
Ward 3: Rena Butler
Ward 4: Sherley Fields
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 they plan 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 are April 20, and June 1 for any contribution over $200. Failure to file these reports can also result in fines and possible removal from office.