BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Polk County Election Commission held a meeting today to discuss issues regarding the residency of David Harris, who is running for Alderman of the Town of Hatfield.
The Town Hall of Hatfield filed a complaint on August 19 of this year with the election commission stating:
“It is a fact that David Harris a resident of 356 Polk Road 35 in Hatfield, Arkansas has filed for the position of Alderman of the Town of Hatfield. This residence is not within the city limits of the town of Hatfield. He has used an address of 111 Polk Road 35 for filing purposes. The building is now vacant and has never been a residence. In fact, the last indication of being lived in was prior to the 2012 election which he attempted to establish residency within the city limits for the purpose of running for Alderman at that time. I have enclosed the water usage history for this vacant building showing clearly that no one has resided there. In addition, this building is assessed as a vacant building with the Polk County Tax Assessors office.
“It is my understanding he has registered and voted in previous elections as a resident of the Town of Hatfield. This is not only untruthful but could set precedence for any nonresident to do the same.
“On August 18th he moved a vehicle and other items that would give the appearance of a residence to this address at 111 Polk 35. According to Arkansas statute 14-42-201, a person must be a resident at the time that they file as a candidate. For these reasons; (1) Mr. Harris has not been a resident within the city limits for a number of years, (2) if he is to be considered a resident; he was not as of the filing deadline of August 15th, 2014. It is my belief that his name should be stricken from the ballot as candidate for the position of Alderman.”
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Mayor Larry Stricklin
In the meeting held today, Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner presented a comparable case to help the commission determine whether the property in question is considered a residence or not. In 2011, the case (State of Arkansas v. Steve Jernigan) was brought before the Arkansas Supreme Court to determine whether Steve Jernigan of Lepanto, Poinsett County, Arkansas, was a legal resident of the town, and therefore, eligible to remain as Mayor of Lepanto.
In the original findings, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that even though Mr. Jernigan’s residence inside the city limits “is a subterfuge and a farce” that “the Court holds that in election candidacy qualification purposes that the statute in this case merely says, must reside. There’s not much guidance in that. There’s no specific case law that the state, nor the defendant has recited.”
The Court found “that the State did not meet its burden of proof,” therefore, Jernigan was allowed to keep the office of Mayor.
Although, the state does not have guidelines to go by, the Polk County Election Commission says that it will try to establish whether Harris is actually residing at the property within Hatfield city limits. On Wednesday, September 17, the Election Commission will travel to the property in question to aid in their decision-making process.
The Commission will meet again on Monday, September 22, at 10 a.m. to report their findings and rule on whether Harris will be eligible to run for Alderman. At the point of their findings, if either party disagrees with the decision, the Town of Hatfield or Mr. Harris, can go through the motions to file a civil case to be ruled upon by the courts.
Harris was not in attendance at the meeting and there is no opponent running against him for the position of Alderman.