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Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. insists he is not seeking to block the Nov. 6 mayoral election, but to follow state law. However, he is asking a Jefferson County circuit judge to issue a restraining order that would prohibit holding the election.
Confused? That’s understandable. One state law deals with the election of a mayor with a mayor-city council form of municipal government and a population of 50,000 or more. That was the law that applied to Pine Bluff in the 2008 elections, or the same year of the last presidential election.
A second state law deals with the election of a mayor with a mayor-city council form of municipal government and a population of less than 50,000. That was the law that describes Pine Bluff since the 2010 census count reflected a population that had dropped to 49,083. Under that statute, the mayoral vote would be held during mid-term elections, or in 2014.
The lawsuit asks Second Division Judge Rob Wyatt Jr., who was assigned the case, to clarify the meaning of the existing state laws prior to the Nov. 6 election, to determine that they apply to the 2012 election, and declare that the next mayoral election for the city of Pine Bluff will be in 2014.
Redus is also asking Wyatt to conduct an expedited hearing on the merits of the case so that a ruling can be obtained prior to the scheduled election. If Wyatt agrees, Redus would win a two-year extension on his current four-year term in a courtroom, not at the ballot box.
“What do you say to people when you’re following the law?” Redus asked. “My job as chief executive is to make sure we follow the law.” In addition to the eight other certified candidates in the race for mayor, there are three candidates running for city treasurer, and City Clerk Loretta Whitfield is currently unopposed for another four-year term.
There are also candidates who have filed for three of the four vacancies on the Pine Bluff City Council. If those races are also put off until 2014, all eight council positions would be open at the same time.
Gov. Mike Beebe, Secretary of State Mark Martin, Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson and the Jefferson County Election Commission were named as defendants in the suit. Gene McKissic, Redus’ attorney, is also asking Wyatt to prohibit the commission from counting ballots cast or certifying the results in a November mayoral election.
Voters are confronted with a classic Catch-22, a situation in which a person is frustrated by a paradoxical rule or set of circumstances that preclude any attempt to escape from them.
Pointing a finger
Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers told the Pine Bluff City Council on Monday night that a current ballot candidate or an interested voter — not the municipality — should seek a judge’s ruling on probable election changes based on the city’s population drop to below 50,000 in the 2010 U.S. census.
“From the city’s perspective, the law should be followed, whatever’s decided,” Childers advised. “This cries out for judicial determination.”
Childers acknowledged he learned of the issue after reading a newspaper story indicating McKissic was seeking a legal opinion from the office of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Alderman Glen Brown blamed Trey Ashcraft, Stu Soffer and Shara Williams, members of the election commission, since the panel is responsible for overseeing elections and certification of results.
Finger pointing. It’s what happens when people — pretty much everyone involved in this case — gets caught off guard.