Scotty Meredith will not be on the ballot for mayor following a ruling by Judge Andrew Howorth in Coahoma County Circuit court Thursday afternoon, leaving incumbent Mayor Chuck Espy the top candidate for the post.
Judge Howorth pointed out Meredith needed to make any appeal quickly as the Primary Election is April 6. At this point Espy will face Independent candidate for Mayor Cassandra Wilson in the June 8 General Election.
Meredith said immediately after the ruling he was not sure if he would appeal.
“I’ve not made a decision,” said Meredith. “I’m discussing it with my attorneys.”
The 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, tax filing, driver’s license and voter record.
“I think the voter registration, the homestead exemption and presenting conflicting addresses proved fatal,” said Howorth in making his ruling.
The ruling was prompted by a petition filed by Espy with the Clarksdale Democratic Executive Committee saying Meredith did not live at the 1128 Park Circle address listed on qualifying papers for the city election.
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.
There are currently six residency requirement cases working their way through courts across Mississippi following that last minute ruling that deal with city election. Should Meredith or any of the other five residency cases be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court they would be expedited with the primary only 20 days away.
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, car titles, utility bills that implied he didn’t.
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 took the stand and 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 4:25 p.m.
A more detailed story of the hearing will be published in the Wednesday, March 24 Clarksdale Press Register
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:
Gregory Neely, Ward 1.
Alfred Allen, Ward 2.
Rena Butler, Ward 3.
Sherley Fields, Ward 4.
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.
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.”
This spring’s Clarksdale Municipal Election will be conducted by the city. This year absentee and affidavit ballots will be counted up to five days after the election and the election will be certified at that time.
The Mayor of Clarksdale is paid $86,421 a year, plus expenses. Commissioners get $26,650 annually, plus expenses.
Questions or concerns about voting issues, policy and procedure for any election should be directed to the Secretary of State’s office at (601) 359-1350.
Questions or concerns about candidate qualifications, ethics and conduct while in office should be directed to the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division at (601) 359-4258.
Qualifications vary from office to office but the main requirements are to be a resident and qualified voter from the ward, district or county they plan to represent. Candidates may not have been convicted of a federal crime or certain Mississippi 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.
Filing false information about a voter’s true residency and knowingly voting in an incorrect ward can be a felony.
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 next campaign finance report deadlines are March 30, April 20, and June 1 for any contribution over $200. Failure to file these reports can result in fines and possible removal from office.