The squabble between two members of the Jefferson County Election Commission continued Monday with two members of the commission wanting to call a meeting this week while the current chairman says only he has that authority.
In a series of e-mails between chairman Stuart Soffer and Ted Davis, Soffer said that by law, only he can call a meeting, and he had scheduled one for Feb. 28 to discuss special election business, and proposed either Monday or Tuesday of that same week as a compromise.
Davis, who was elected to the commission by the Democratic Party on Jan. 29, wants to schedule a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and a Freedom of Information Act notice of that meeting was received from the commission Monday afternoon. The notice said the meeting was called to “reorganize and to look at general timelines for upcoming elections.”
A subsequent e-mail from Soffer to The Commercial said the FOIA notice should hae read “Two members of the Jefferson County Election Commission have chosen to ignore the provisions of Arkansas Code Annotated 7-4-105 (b) as reaffirmed in Attorney General Opinion 2011-034, to conduct an illegal meeting to re-organize. Only the chair of a county board of election commissioners can call a meeting.”
Soffer, the only Republican on the three-member commission, was elected chairman on Jan. 23 by Trey Ashcraft, who has since resigned, and Shara Williams, who remains on the commission. Both Ashcraft and Williams are Democrats.
When all three current commissioners were sworn in Feb. 5, Davis asked Soffer to call a meeting to re-organize, a request Soffer denied
On Monday, Davis sent an e-mail to Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter, Williams, Soffer and Elections Coordinator Will Fox, saying “to do the business of the Election Commission, the consensus time for the meeting as established will be Feb. 20 at 5:30 p.m.”
Soffer has said he would be out of town Wednesday, would be out of state the next day, and didn’t know if he would be back by the following day. He added that the commission usually does not meet on weekends.
He also said that if Davis and Williams conduct an illegal meeting “there are going to be consequences,” and suggested they review existing state law.
“I sincerely hope there is not going to be a need for such drastic action and encourage you to follow our legal advisers guidance and reach mutual agreement,” Soffer said in the e-mail.
Last week, Hunter said that in his opinion, Soffer’s term as chairman had expired and the commission needed to reorganize to elect a chairman.
Hunter also said that a chairman cannot be removed by the other commissioners, but that the chairman’s term of office expires at the end of his or her two-year term as a commissioner.
Soffer said that while he respected Hunter’s opinion, “I respectfully disagree with it, based on consultations with more knowledgable attorneys and election officials.”
He said a new Attorney General’s opinion on the issue has been requested.
“If the AG finds PA Hunter is correct, I will support and work with the duly elected commission chairman if I am not the choice to continue as chairman,” Soffer said. “If the AG finds he (Hunter) was mistaken, I will continue to serve as chairman and ask Hunter to initiate whatever action is necessary to make that occur. Until that time, I hope Commissioner Davis does not do anything to jeopardize results of the upcoming two special elections.”
Regarding a reorganizational meeting, an e-mail from Hunter to Davis, Williams, Soffer and Fox on Friday said “I think it is important that all three of you be present for the meeting, therefore I suggest that the three of you find a time when all three can be present.”
Hunter suggested that since Davis and Williams wanted to meet this week, Soffer should let them know which day would be most convenient.
“The only other option would be for Mr. Davis and Ms. Williams to agree to wait until the 28th,” Hunter said in the e-mail. “If you don’t want to wait until the 28th, Mr. Soffer needs to clear some time to meet.”
Soffer said State Rep. Ken Bragg (R-Sheridan) has agreed to ask for an expedited Attorney General’s opinion on whether Soffer can remain as chairman, or if the commission needs to conduct a re-organizational meeting to select new officers.
“Jefferson County voters deserve stability, not turmoil, and I will endeavor to insure stability is restored,” Soffer said.
Last week, Soffer said in an e-mail that if the commission did not support him remaining chairman, he would support Williams for the chairmanship and remain as commission secretary.
“She would be a very acceptable compromise to me and I am very confident the voters and candidates of Jefferson County, “Soffer said. “If readers agree now would be the time to make it known to the County Democratic Central Committee and other players.”