Just what will happen in the April 30 city of Midway election between incumbent Charles “Chuck” Willis and Samuel “Sam” Stevens is now in the hands of the District Court of Appeal.
On April 19, Circuit Judge James Shelfer order Midway Mayor Ella Barber and interim city manager Roosevelt Morris to remove Willis’ name from the ballot because, as stipulated by the city’s charter, he does not live in the district where he qualified to run.
In a hearing to decide whether the mayor and city manager should be held in contempt, Judge Shelfer announced his ruling had been appealed and there was nothing further to be done until the appeals court made a decision.
Elections attorney Mark Herron of Tallahassee told Shelfer he was representing the city of Midway and an appeal had been filed earlier that morning at 8:05 a.m. The appeal was accepted at 8:21 a.m., he said.
“The citizens of Gadsden County will be happy to know how hard their clerks work, since the office does not open until 8:30 a.m.,” Shelfer said.
As of the election Tuesday, the court had not heard the appeal and Willis’ name remained on the ballot. He won by two votes. What will happen if the appeal is not upheld, said Morris, “is a bridge that will be crossed when we get there.”
It was the responsibility for the mayor and city manager to determine that anyone qualifying to run for office and represent a specific district must live there when they qualify and throughout their tenure in office.
The judge ruled that Barber and Morris did not do that. Further, the judge wrote that “the overwhelming weight of the evidence presented at the hearing showed that candidate Willis did not reside in the 4th district.”
On April 23, during a special meeting, a majority of the council voted not to follow the judge’s order and voted to draft a resolution to Supervisor of Elections Shirley Green Knight but not deliver it.
“He’s (Judge Shelfer) not telling us to adhere to his order; we have an option to appeal this order,” suggested Councilmember Delores Madison. She added the council can remove Willis’ name from the ballot and leave the seat open and to add District 4 election to the special election planned in August for city charter revisions.
But, per their charter, a seat cannot be left vacant.
“I’ve never been in a court when the judge called you up for questioning and you were not served a subpoena. That seemed like entrapment to me. The judge was on their side. They had seven witnesses for them and one for the city. If you can’t find a better way to win the election and you claim to be a brother of mine and you stab me in the back,” Willis told Stevens.
He turned his anger to Henry Hunter, the city’s attorney, whom he said lost the case.
“This man don’t have no degree, not even a paralegal, and this man can come off the street and beat you and win the case,” Willis told Hunter.
Madison made a motion to instruct the city manager to hire an attorney to appeal the judge’s decision. That attorney was Herron.