Hattiesburg City Council Releases Statement About Election - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Hattiesburg City Council Releases Statement About Special Election

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Hattiesburg City Council released the following statement about the special election granted by Judge William Coleman on Thursday:

"Judge Coleman has ordered a special election to determine who will serve as Mayor of Hattiesburg.  The City Council appreciates and certainly will abide by this decision.

The prospect of a special election raises the issue of how best to conduct an election that will settle the matter of who will lead the City for the next four years and also guarantee our citizens that their votes will be collected and counted properly and that the election process is not tainted.  It is our responsibility to offer that guarantee to the people of Hattiesburg. 

For that reason, the City Council will contact the offices of the Governor and the Secretary of State today to request formally that measures be taken to ensure that this special election be carried out in a spirit of transparency, accuracy and integrity. In our opinion, the only way to regain the trust of City of Hattiesburg voters is to conduct the special election without the input or assistance of any City of Hattiesburg personnel or of any members of the most recent Election Commission; we believe also that any poll workers hired to help with this special election must undergo training far more rigorous than what has been offered to City of Hattiesburg poll workers in the past. In addition, we consider it appropriate to request that on the day of the special election, the Secretary of State assign monitors to each precinct to observe the voting and to ensure that all election processes are conducted according to the law.

The Council realizes that hiring outside assistance and training poll workers will add to the already high cost of an additional election. We have weighed the options and fear that the people of Hattiesburg ultimately will pay a far higher price if we do not insist on an election process that operates openly, efficiently and honestly."

City Councilwoman Debbie Delgado said that the statement that was released did not represent the sentiments of the council as a whole. This is the statement she released:

"Judge Coleman issued an Order requiring a special election to decide the Mayor of Hattiesburg.  Immediately following the decision, the President of the Hattiesburg City Council, made the decision to knowingly issue a statement to the Hattiesburg public as representing the position of the City Council as a whole that, in reality, did not reflect the will of each member of the Council.

This afternoon, I was presented a statement purported to be from the Council for my review.  I read it on the spot and advised the Clerk of the Council that I did not agree with the statement.   I advised that if the statement went out as it existed that I would issue my own statement.  She advised the President of the Council of my position and the President ordered the statement issued as it had been pinned.  No effort was made to truthfully reveal my objection to the statement.

As issued, the statement does not reflect the position of the City Council as a whole.  This is not the first time that I have been troubled by statements of the Council President that are not representative of each of us.  While I do acknowledge the impact of a majority opinion, it does not serve the City well to have a fragmented position represented as being unanimous.   We do not always agree and it takes little effort to state the true will of elected officials who represent different parts of the City.  My colleague, the Council President, does not seem willing to do that.

This instance is of particular distress because it is essentially asking the Republican Party leadership of this State to conduct and staff a special election contrary to the law providing that the Election Commission conduct elections.  As an elected Democrat, that does not sit well with me.   Needless to say, the Council President and a majority of the Council and most of those involved in the lawsuit on the side of my former colleague, Dave Ware, are Republicans, some being high ranking.  Most of those involved on the side of the Mayor are Democrats.   

 Historically, elections are carried out by the Election Commission with the assistance of the City Clerk working mainly as facilitator.   Imperfect as human beings are, there will be times when all does not go according to the prescriptions.  Our position should be to make sure that the rules we have in place are followed.  Having experienced what some may call a flawed process, I believe we are certainly now capable of conducting elections properly.   We all have a heightened sense of what the errors were and I know that each candidate, the Commission and the City Clerk will make sure that all workers are armed with clear knowledge of the process and the rules.

Inviting the State of Mississippi to conduct an election in Hattiesburg does not give me, as a voter, the level of comfort I believe the voting public deserves to insure a fair election for all the reasons that required the Voting Rights Act to be passed in order for people like me to be able to serve.

As a consequence, I am asking the Justice Department to send in Federal election oversight teams to insure that no action is taken to prevent all eligible voters from participating in the election.

We are, indeed, entitled to fair elections.  I just believe that the Federal government has a better record of protecting the right to vote than the State of Mississippi."

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