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Legal path cleared for Caledonia election


Bill Lawrence, left, and Mitchell Wiggins

Bill Lawrence, left, and Mitchell Wiggins



Slim Smith



Caledonia will hold its second municipal election of this cycle on July 18 as planned as concerns about whether the town would have the requisite number of election commissioners to stage it have presumably been alleviated. 


The resignation of two of the town's five commissioners after the initial election of June 6 was thrown out left the town with the minimum of three election commissioners -- Martha Hopkins, Donna Egger and Betty Kirkland. State laws requires municipalities with populations less than 20,000 must have at least three election commissioners to conduct an election. 


After Monday's meeting to set the date for the new election, there was some concern as to whether Kirkland, an international flight attendant who was working a flight to China at the time of the meeting, would be available on July 18. 


Kirkland arrived back in Caledonia Wednesday and confirmed she would work the election, regardless of her work schedule, she said Thursday. 


"We don't get our schedules until June 18, but I'll just say that if they need me to work the election, I'll be available," Kirkland said. "If I'm on the work schedule then I'll either try to swap with someone or drop the flight and not get paid. My dad was mayor for 20 years and I moved back her five years ago to be with my mom. Caledonia means a lot to me, so I'll do whatever the town needs me to do." 


Kirkland, who did not work the night of the June 6 election but did participate in the first of two recounts in the mayor's race the following day, said she had no idea her work schedule would be a matter of public interest as she flew to China. 


"I never could have imagined this situation," she said. "It never occurred to me that I'd be needed again because, when I left, there wasn't any talk about a new election." 






On June 8, the election commission met and agreed to set aside the result of the first election when they were made aware of violation of state election code laws -- namely commission chairman Ken Byars took home the unsealed ballot box. Byars resigned from the commission the next day. 


Monday, the commission met to set a date for a new election. Tuesday, commissioner Mildred Wiggins resigned when informed that working the election would be a violation of state code prohibiting nepotism because her nephew, alderman Mitch Wiggins, was a candidate for mayor. She had served on the commission for 40 years, including in 2013 when her nephew was elected to the board of aldermen. 


While waiting for Kirkland to return, the town weighed its options on what to do if Kirkland were not available. 


According to the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, election commissioners must have completed state training within six months of any election. Town attorney Chris Hemphill said it might be a possible to have a new commissioner trained on an emergency basis. 


The secretary of state, in an email response to questions from the Dispatch, said that training could be made available. 


"Right now, no full training session is scheduled,' the email said. "However, we work with municipal election officials who request training and will make our staff available to assist in that training." 


The office said new legislation passed this year could provide another option. That legislation allows cities to contract with the county to use its commissioners to stage elections. 


Barring an unforeseen event, those contingencies appear to be a moot point now. 


The town's board of aldermen will meet July 5 where it is expected to re-appoint the three remaining commissioners, who would then be available to conduct the election. 


"It looks like all three will be appointed and we'll proceed," Mayor Bill Lawrence said Thursday. 


The town will begin absentee voting on Monday. Ballots are available at town hall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The town hall will also be open for in-person absentee voting on Saturday, July 8, and Saturday, July 15, from 8 until noon. 


There were 24 absentee ballots among the 345 valid ballots cast in the aborted June 6 election.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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