Ruling that 2012 is the proper year to conduct the election for mayor of Pine Bluff, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Jay Moody on Wednesday rejected a request from Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. to halt the election.
Moody was appointed to hear the case after all the judges in Jefferson County recused themselves.
The judge told attorney Gene McKissic, who along with attorney Jackie Harris represented Redus, that he would offer his reasons for his ruling in writing by Friday afternoon.
“The people won today,” said Debe Hollingsworth, one of the eight challengers to Redus in the mayor’s race. “The judge’s ruling means the people are going to get to vote for the mayor for the next four years. It’s a win-win situation.”
Redus had argued in a lawsuit filed in September that because the population of the city had dropped below 50,000 in the last federal census, the proper time to hold a mayoral election would be in 2014, and that he should be allowed to serve another two years after his present term expires at the end of this year until a successor is selected and qualified.
Redus’ lawsuit asked the judge to order the election commission not to count the votes cast in the mayoral election on Nov. 6 and County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson not to certify the results. Moody denied both those requests.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but the citizens of Pine Bluff knew we were trying to make sure that we followed the law,” Redus said. “I’m going to double my campaign efforts between now and the election.”
At the beginning of the two-hour hearing, Moody denied a motion by attorney Chrishauna Clark, who represented Hollingsworth, and attorney Terry Wynne, who represented the Jefferson County Election Commission and the Jefferson County Clerk, to include the city of Pine Bluff in the lawsuit.
Clark had argued that the city was a “necessary and indispensable party” in the case but McKissic countered by saying that the city does not conduct the election, notify candidates or set the date for the election.
The hearing was delayed for more than 15 minutes after Trey Ashcraft, chairman of the county election commission, failed to appear to testify and initial efforts to locate him by phone were unsuccessful. Wynne later found out and reported to the court that Ashcraft’s sister had a medical emergency and had been rushed to a hospital at Stuttgart and Ashcraft had gone there.
Testifying on his own behalf, Redus confirmed that he had been re-elected as mayor of Pine Bluff in 2008 and the office had not been vacant as the result of “resignation, removal or death” since then.
He said he filed the lawsuit to determine what the correct election cycle for the city should be, and was “not attempting to stop a legal vote of the people,” he said.
Redus also said state law provided that his term be extended for two years to get the city on the correct election cycle.
Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers said he had explained in general terms the state laws at the request of the city council.
“Our position was that we don’t have a dog in this fight,” Childers said. “The city’s interest is that the law be followed and let the chips fall where they may.”
In addition to Hollingsworth, who had been allowed to intervene in the lawsuit shortly after it was filed, the remaining candidates for mayor, Clarence Davis, Tim Whisenhunt, Thelma Walker, Steven Mays, John James Jr., Peter Daniels Jr., and Kent Broughton were included as defendants in the case.
McKissic called Walker, Davis, Hollingsworth, Mays, Daniels and Whisenhunt, who were all present for the hearing, and asked each if, while they were preparing to run for the office, had received information from the election commission in either written or oral form that there might be a change in the election cycle because of the decrease in population and each said no.
After the hearing, Redus said “it’s not my responsibility to let the citizens of Pine Bluff know about the possibility of the election not being held because the population dropped. It was the job of the election commission and they didn’t do their job.”
James and Broughton were not present and Moody confirmed with the attorneys that both had received written notice of the hearing.
Neither Clark or Wynne called any witnesses and none of the other mayoral candidates called witnesses or testified, although Walker and Daniels attempted to ask questions of Redus but Moody ruled that the questions were irrelevant and “will not help me in my decision.”
Walker wanted to know when Redus became aware of the state statutes that provided the city’s population would affect the election, while Daniels questioned why there had been nothing said publicly by Redus about the population drop affecting the election.
In his closing, Harris said the issue is whether the city should conduct an election for mayor in 2012 and he said it is not the right time, based on state law, and Redus should stay in office until his successor is “elected and certified.”
Redus based the lawsuit on a 1965 statute adopted by the Arkansas Legislature and Harris argued that a 1967 law which Hollingsworth’s attorney had cited was less specific than the 1965 law, and the more specific law should take precedence.
Clark argued that what Redus was asking in the lawsuit, that is, to prohibit the election commission from counting the ballots and certifying the results, “were results not contemplated by either state statute.”
“It’s not up to the courts to remedy something the law did not contemplate doing,” Clark said.
She also described Harris’ argument that applying a general verses specific interpretation to the various statues was not applicable.
“For that to come into play, there has to be a clear conflict that cannot be reconciled,” Clark said.
Regarding the two laws, Wynne said you had to “assume the legislature that adopted the (1967) law knew about the other law.”
Gov. Mike Beebe and Secretary of State Mark Martin were originally included in the lawsuit but both of them were dropped by McKissic after it was determined that they were not needed.