Meridian Star

May 12, 2013

No new signatures on bond petition

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     People who wish to remove their names from a petition calling for a referendum on a $14 million bond issue may do so at any time until the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors determines whether to call an election.

    Of the 1,554 people who signed the petition, three had signed counter-petitions so their names could be removed from petitions in the Chancery Clerk's Office around noon on Friday.

The Board of Supervisors has proposed the bond issue for city and county recreation projects as well as courthouse renovations, but some people want voters to be allowed to weigh in on the matter at the ballot box.

    Petitioners needed at least 1,500 signatures of registered voters in the county to force a referendum. Petitions turned in on Monday to Chancery Clerk Carolyn Mooney exceeded that number, but it is not uncommon for some names to be rejected when the petitions are examined by the Circuit Clerk's Office, when names are compared to the list of registered voters in the county.

    At a Monday board meeting, questions arose concerning removal of signatures on petitions and Rick Barry, board attorney, said according to an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General's office, people could remove their names until the petitions are turned over to the Board by the Circuit Clerk.

    He also recommended that the board vote to hold the petitions for two weeks so the public could examine them at the Chancery Clerk's Office or online on the county's website to determine if individuals whose signatures were on it in fact signed the petition themselves. Or if someone simply wanted their name removed, they could do so.

    This raised the ire of some petitions proponents

    "If someone wants their name taken off of it, if they didn't sign it, that's alright. If they did sign it, that ain't alright," said Raymond Huffmaster, who was among those present who spoke out against the bond issue.

    He said he didn't know of anybody who would have put someone else's  name on the petition.

    "I don't know either," Barry said, "but I want to make sure that doesn't happen."

    The Attorney General's opinion to which Barry referred states that "persons who wish to withdraw their names from a petition protesting the issuance of bonds may do so up until the time the board of supervisors makes the determination of whether or not to call an election."

    The opinion also states that "persons may add their names to the petitions protesting issuance of the bonds only on or before the date specified in the board's resolution for such protest to be filed."

    In this case the deadline for petitions was May 6, the day of the Monday board meeting when the petitions were presented to the board.

    For further clarification, The Meridian Star contacted the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, which handles election issues.

    "People have the right to withdraw their names at any time before the matter is finally heard by the board of supervisors," said Pamela Weaver, spokesperson for the Secretary of State. "A person may withdraw his/her name from a petition objecting to a bond issue for any reason, at any time before the matter is finally heard by the board of supervisors."

      Asked if the county would be required to accept new signatures on petitions past the deadline, Weaver said "No."

    However, the petition drive is moving forward and petitioners plan to submit names to the Board of Supervisors on May 20, which will be two weeks after the board's last meeting. On Friday Huffmaster said he is still collecting signed petitions.

    "We're going to turn them in anyway. It's got to send a message of sorts," Huffmaster said. "Whether they'll listen to it or not is the question."

    Huffmaster said he has petitions at his upholstery shop and people who wish to sign it can do so by calling on him there; Huffmaster Upholstery, 1601 Fourth Street.

    Those who wish to remove their names from the petitions by signing a counter-petition may do so by going to the Lauderdale County Chancery Clerk's Office on the first floor of the courthouse at 500 Constitution Avenue.