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Challenge to councilman's residence falls flat


Stephen Jones, left, and Gary Jefferson

Stephen Jones, left, and Gary Jefferson



Alex Holloway



The Columbus municipal Democratic executive committee dismissed a complaint against incumbent Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones after the complainant, Gary Jefferson, failed to arrive in time for a Friday evening hearing. 


The four-person committee, comprised of chair Debora Holt, Melodie Stewart Cunningham, Joe Garrison and Carolyn Turner Karriem, ended the hearing at 5:05 p.m. without Jefferson in attendance. Friday's hearing, which was held at the Lowndes County Courthouse, began at 5 p.m. Jefferson had not arrived by 5:15, when representatives of The Dispatch left the courthouse. 


The committee convened the hearing after receiving a complaint about Jones' place of residence from Jefferson, who is also running as a Democrat for the Ward 5 seat. 


Holt said the committee, after receiving Jefferson's challenge against Jones' candidacy, notified both candidates of the hearing. 


"We were told that Mr. Jefferson was going to file a challenge against Stephen Jones," Holt said after the meeting. "He put it in writing, we received it, and within two days these letters were hand-delivered to both parties stating the challenge had been filed and the time and date to appear. 


"As you can see, Mr. Jones is here and Mr. Jefferson did not show up," she added. 


Jefferson and Jones are the only two competing for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 5 seat. The winner of the May 2 primary will advance to face Republican candidate Mark Ward in the June general election. 


Jones, according to his qualification information published by the city, lives at 1804 Eighth Ave. N. He said it's the same address where he lived when he ran, without facing a residence challenge, for the Ward 5 seat last spring. 


The incumbent councilman, armed with documents he contended would prove he lives at the Eighth Avenue North address, said after the meeting that he wasn't sure why Jefferson filed the challenge against him. 


"I had bills and stuff that come to the house and a deed with my name on it," Jones said. "I don't know what the purpose of it was. He really knows where I live. 


"I'm just glad it's all behind us, and we can focus on the race and serving people, so the people can choose who will be in office," he added. 


Jones and Jefferson both ran for the Ward 5 seat in last year after former councilman Kabir Karriem was sworn in as District 41 state representative. Jones received 254 votes (30 percent) to Jefferson's 223 (26 percent) and advanced to a runoff, where he ultimately won the council seat. 


The Dispatch could not reach Jefferson for comment after Friday's meeting. 


However, when The Dispatch contacted Jefferson Friday before the scheduled hearing, he said he filed the challenge to address rumors that Jones does not actually live at the documented address. 


"To get this behind us -- where his residence is at -- I decided to clear the air so we can focus on our campaign," Jefferson said. "... We want to start right so we can end right." 


In the same interview, Jefferson declined to expand on whether he personally believes if Jones does not live in Ward 5. However, he contended that his challenge was not a result of ill-will toward Jones. 


"Whether I believe it or not, I don't want to focus on myself or what my beliefs are," Jefferson said. "I believe Mr. Jones is a good man. For some reason, he thinks I have a personal vendetta against him. I don't have that kind of ill feeling toward Mr. Jones. If a man wins, he wins. But we all have to meet the qualifications, and we shouldn't be doing something if we know we don't meet the qualifications."




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