Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning in Jefferson County Circuit Court against former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. and the Jefferson County Election Commission among others, alleging a conspiracy to disenfranchise Pine Bluff voters.
Hollingsworth is seeking a court ruling that would halt a primary and general election for mayor, city clerk and city treasurer in 2014, asserting in her filing that multiple legal bodies have already determined that the next such elections will not be held until 2016.
“I come before you today as a resident and registered voter of our great city, Pine Bluff Arkansas, to announce that I have personally filed a complaint against Carl A. Redus Jr., the Jefferson County Election Commission, Ted Davis, Cynthia Sims and Stu Soffer as well as Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Johnson,” Hollingsworth said at the start of a press conference held on the south steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Suit was also filed against Lloyd Franklin Sr. as a necessary party because of his filing as a Democratic candidate for city treasurer; against City Clerk Loretta Whitfield as a necessary party because of her filing for re-election; and against County Election Coordinator Will Fox in his official capacity.
Hollingsworth said the lawsuit is necessary to put a halt to what she and her legal team characterized as an attempt to illegally alter the election cycle.
“This case is a preselection challenge to the qualifications of Mr. Redus, who is running for but is not eligible or qualified to be mayor of the city of Pine Bluff,” Hollingsworth said. “Previously Mr. Redus attempted to change the mayoral election cycle of 2012, at which time the court rejected the argument. Moreover the court held that Arkansas code 14-37-113 specifically addresses the effect of population changes on legislation.”
Hollingsworth said the statute makes it clear that Pine Bluff mayoral elections should be held in the same election cycle as presidential elections.
“As such the next election will be held in 2016,” Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth said no city money will be spent in regard to the lawsuit.
“This is all coming out of my pocket,” Hollingsworth said.
Attorney Charles Sidney Gibson said he is aiming for a quick ruling.
“We are asking for an expedited hearing under the law within seven days for a judge to decide this case,” Gibson said. “Our stance is that any attempt to schedule an election for these offices this year amounts to a disenfranchisement of the voters who voted for a four-year term. We think this is a slam dunk. We just need an order from the judge saying that.”
The suit asks the court for an injunction mandating that any plans for such elections be nullified and cancelled; the issuance of a writ of mandamus/prohibition that will order the parties to take all appropriate action to nullify and cancel the scheduling of any elections for these three offices; and a declaratory judgment that states that the three offices have terms that do not expire until Dec. 31, 2016.
Hollingsworth’s filing includes three exhibits consisting of copies of Circuit Judge Jay Moody’s final order from Oct. 5, 2012, in which he sides with Hollingsworth on when elections should take place; Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter’s opinion on the matter in which he agrees with Moody’s final order; and Hollingsworth’s official oath of office in which she affirms to faithfully discharge her duties as mayor from 2013 until 2017.
“I hope this will be resolved quickly,” Hollingsworth said.
A call to Redus seeking comment Monday evening was not returned as of press time.
Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Ted Davis said his view of the situation has not changed.
“My position is still the same,” Davis said Tuesday evening. “And that is that the Arkansas Constitution indicates specifically that the mayoral election should be this year. Specifically the Arkansas Municipal League said in the January issue of City & Town that cities of the first class with under 50,000 people should have elections for mayor, city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer in the mid-term election cycle.”
Davis said the Oct. 5, 2012, final order by Moody is open to interpretation.
“In that decision he did not indicate anything in relation to when the next mayoral election should be,” Davis said.
Davis indicated that Hollingsworth should not have been surprised by the current situation.
“I think she as well as the greater population of this community knew going in that there was a chance we would have a mayoral election during the midterm elections,” Davis said. “This should be expanded to the governor’s office, the Arkansas Secretary of State and the Arkansas Attorney General. It is not up to the Election Commission to make law but to carry out the law as it is written.”
Jefferson County Attorney Jackie Harris did not return a phone call seeking comment on how county entities would pursue legal representation prior to press time.
Click below to replay the live-streaming video from the press conference.