Lawsuit might be only option to halt mayoral election

A lawsuit appears to be the only way to prevent a mayoral election from being held this year in the city of Pine Bluff, as directed by the Jefferson County Election Commission.

The commission voted earlier this month to place the position on primary and general election ballots this year.

Mark R. Hayes, the Arkansas Municipal League’s director of legal services, said Tuesday that legal action is the only way to stop the mayoral election from moving forward.

“It seems pretty clear to me that in light of the acceptance of the mayoral filing by the County Election Commission an intent has been signaled to hold an election for that office,” Hayes said. “Litigation will be needed to settle the issue of whether there should be a mayoral election this year or not. There are a number of parties who can file suit in this matter, including current office holders, a party attempting to run in the election or a taxpaying member of the public.”

Alex Reed, director of public affairs with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, said there is nothing his agency can do to intervene in the situation.

“We are not permitted by law to intervene in the issue,” Reed said. “It’s up to the Jefferson County Election Commission. Litigation would be needed to try to halt the Pine Bluff mayoral election this year.”

Election Commission Chairman Ted Davis said Tuesday that state law is on the side of those planning for a 2014 mayoral race.

“We looked at the relevant state law and it indicates that cities of the first class shall elect a mayor, as well as a city clerk, city attorney and city treasurer this year,” Davis said. “Judge [Jay] Moody ruled in 2012 that section 14-37-113 of Arkansas Code was controlling on this issue but other legal experts we have talked to seem to think that this section is ambiguous.”

ACA section 14-37-113 states that any law that is intended to apply to a city within a defined population classification is deemed to remain in force in the future despite any increase or decrease in any particular city’s population.

In his October 2012 lawsuit, then-Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. argued that because the population of Pine Bluff dropped below 50,000 people in the 2010 census, the year for electing the mayor changed because of the different set of rules for cities of the first class with populations above 50,000 and below 50,000.

“The Election Commission does not make the law,” Davis said. “Our job is to carry out what the law says. Mayor Redus filed as a Democrat for the May preferential primary. Now anyone who wants to run as an independent has until July or August to file.”