Council appoints lawyer to settle residency dispute
by By DANIEL GADDY, Daily Mountain Eagle
Jul 28, 2012 | 1027 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Jasper City Council on Friday appointed a local attorney to decide whether a mayoral candidate’s residence disqualifies him.

Citing an attorney general’s opinion, City of Jasper attorney Phillip Laird advised the council to select Jasper lawyer Steven Thomas as an intermediary to rule whether Donnie Naramore’s name can remain on the ballot for Jasper’s mayoral race.

Laird said the attorney general’s opinion states the appointee must be “free from bias, prejudice or partiality, not having a pecuniary interest.” Laird said Thomas, who has never represented the City, meets those qualifications.

Council members Sandi Sudduth, Morris Studdard and Gary Cowen voted to appoint Thomas. Council member Johnny Rollins, who is running for mayor, abstained due to his conflict of interest. The remaining council member, Lee Swann, was not present at the meeting due to medical issues.

The council held a meeting regarding Naramore’s residency on July 20, but it did not vote to disqualify him as a candidate. Naramore’s residence listed on his application, a house on Brakefield Dairy Road, is not annexed into the city despite being surrounded by city property.

Naramore said, however, that he has another residence on Highway 195 well within the city limits. He said City Clerk Kathy Chambless assured him that was not a problem for his candidacy. Chambless said during last week’s meeting that she believed they were speaking about another issue.

Since he is running for re-election, Mayor Sonny Posey announced during Friday’s called meeting that he disqualified himself from making any decision regarding Naramore’s candidacy.

Before the vote to approve Thomas, council member Morris Studdard wondered if the council should go further and appoint an attorney from out of the area, like Birmingham. Council member Gary Cowen said he believes that under the law the appointee must be a citizen of the municipality.

Naramore’s attorney, Nathan Brock, said his client is disappointed in the council’s decision and referred to a the Alabama League of Municipalities’ elections manual, which states that any questions of a candidate’s qualifications should be settled by a court.

“Neither the mayor nor the city council has the authority to challenge that candidate’s eligibility,” Brock said. “Not only has the city council done this, but they have handpicked a judge with no authority to act in this matter, so that, in turn, the candidates for mayor can be handpicked.”

Brock told the council his client has been a resident and qualified voter in the City of Jasper for the last 19 years.

“[Naramore] has dutifully completed and has dutifully complied with all prerequisites, and with respect to all present — sincere respect — this council, the mayor and the city absolutely do not have the right, do not have the power, and they do not have the authority to disenfranchise Mr. Naramore of his Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote or seek election,” he said. “Any attempt to do either of these steps would be an usurpation of the authority that has been solely delegated to the Alabama legislature and judiciary.”

Sudduth asked Brock if he believed Naramore’s residence on Brakefield Dairy Road is indeed part of the city limits. Brock referred to his previous statement to the council.

"Without getting into the precedent, I believe that [the evidence] will absolutely, unequivocally show that he is a resident, but I believe the argument and the rationale is something that is only properly introduced before the circuit court," Brock said.

During Friday’s called meeting, the council also heard from resident Barry Davis, who recently sent a letter to Chambless threatening a lawsuit if she did not disqualify Naramore as a candidate.

Davis told the council he was disqualified from a previous municipal race, and he sees it as unfair that Naramore remains on the ballot due to the council’s inaction.

Davis added that Naramore’s residence on Highway 195 is irrelevant.

“I don’t see the dispute, all I based my complaint on is that the law applied to me for something, but it didn’t apply to him,” Davis said.