BY BRIAN JONES
West Point’s runoff election is over, but not before an abrupt detour into federal court.
After challenger Gary Dedeaux avoided a runoff by one vote in the District 5 selectman race, incumbent Jasper Pittman filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the election had been improperly run.
Pittman, along with West Point citizens Chiketa Young, Larry Stevenson, Kiara Lane and Annie Cattledge , filed suit May 17 against the West Point Municipal Election Commission, the Municipal Election Committee, individually against Municipal Election Committee members Bettye Swift, George Bailey and Darrellene Fulgham and West Point Municipal Democratic Executive Committee member Tom Storey.
Pittman alleged “the Municipal Election Commission exercised the authority of the Democratic Party based upon a claim that it was authorized to do so by the West Point, Mississippi, Municipal Democratic Executive Committee Chairman, Thomas B. Storey. There is no West Point, Mississippi, Municipal Democratic Executive Committee and the person that claimed to be Chair, Thomas B. Storey, is not in fact the Chair.”
The suit alleges that the Municipal Election Commission was without the authority to conduct the election, and so lacked authority to rule upon absentee and affidavit ballots. [The election hinged on absentee and affidavit votes. – Brian Jones] Pittman goes on to claim that the election did not comply with the Mississippi Code, and that no federal pre-clearance was given for the changes in election procedure.
Pittman demanded that Swift, Bailey and Fulgham be prevented from certifying the election and that the May 7 election be declared null and void, among other things.
Pittman, Storey, Swift and City Clerk Lela Jack all testified at a May 20 hearing before Federal Judge Mike Mills in Oxford. Mills denied Pittman’s requests, and, as of press time, the election stands and Dedeaux is the new District 5 selectman.
In other election news, the one race still on the ballot for Tuesday’s contest saw challenger Jimmy Clark unseat incumbent Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins. Although Collins was ahead by a narrow margin when the machine totals came in, absentee ballots put Clark over the top 442-390. There are still around 40 affidavit ballots in play, but they will not be enough to save Collins.
This year was especially rough for city incumbents, with Collins, Pittman and Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon all being sent home. Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo and Mayor Scott Ross did not seek re-election, leaving Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer – who won his race convincingly – as the only returning official from the prior administration.
[Before I started covering the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, West Point’s now outgoing board of selectmen was the gold standard of government crazy on my beat. There were no issues too small to spark epic, petty arguments. Seemingly simple issues became stretched into self-made crises. Difficult decisions – the ones leaders are elected to make – were either put off until the absolute last minute or handled at some sneakily called special meeting. While the constant drama made for some great stories, it also made me worry. What did it say about West Point that these guys are the best and brightest?
[I find it encouraging that West Point’s citizens were just as tired of it as I was, and I think they sent a clear message in this election. I hope the new crop of leaders heard that message. Here’s hoping for four years of boring meetings. – Brian Jones]