by Max Brantley
A citizens group that worked unsuccessfully to petition for a recall election for Little Rock City Director Erma Fingers Hendrix criticized the city petition certification process. Their letter is on this earlier item.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter has responded in a letter to the mayor and city board.
LETTER FROM TOM CARPENTER
Dear Mayor Stodola and Members of the Board of Directors,
The attached email to certain persons from Kathy Wells should be addressed. To be sure, there are gross statements of the truth, but as usual, the details are ignored.
Ms. Wells challenges the process for certification. I shall address the inaccuracies and misstatements individually:
(a) “City Attorney Tom Carpenter told City Clerk Nancy Wood she found insufficient signatures to hold a special election on the recall of Ward One Director Erma Hendrix.”
I had nothing to do with the sufficiency of the signatures. This issue was concluded by the City Clerk. I never told Nancy to make any finding whatsoever. I did provide legal advice as requested, e.g., verification of the percentage of signatures that were needed.
(b) “We began by asking city officials what guidelines to follow under election laws, to assure we acted correctly and effectively. To this date, no written guidelines have been provided. We relied on phone calls from Mr. Carpenter, which led us to come up short.”
Early in the process, I pointed out to Ms. Wells the statute that had to be followed for a recall vote. As I was asked additional questions, I pointed out that as attorney for the City, and the Board of Directors, I was not in a position to provide legal advice to Ms. Wells or to her group. If the group chose not to use private counsel and problems developed, that is not the responsibility of this office. So, the conclusion “which led us to come up short,” is simply inaccurate.
(c) ‘Verbal information has proved lacking, and lacking in important, even critical, details. Use of a birthdate as an identifier for a voter was never told to us by any city officials; months into the campaign, others informed us of this, and we changed our petition form accordingly. We protest. We ask that your remedy this, for use of future campaigns by voters.’
This issue continues to arise, and evidently Ms. Wells’ group refuses to believe what they have consistently been told. Birthdates are not required. They are helpful if there is a question about identity. Nancy informs me that the birthdates were used to help verify a name, but they were never used to disqualify a name. The key, though, is that names had to be verified. All available information to do so is the burden placed upon the petitioner. There is, then, nothing to remedy.
It should be noted that when asked if the City should disqualify signatures without a birthdate, this office consistently said “no.”
(d) “We also protest Mr. Carpenter’s unwarranted interference in the democratic process – blocking our observing staff check signatures at the office of the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk. We asked to do this, and Ms. Wood agreed. When we called a second time, to check on a session, we were told Mr. Carpenter had ruled out any observers.
My comments to Nancy, after she asked the question, were that the statute did not require the City Clerk to permit observers. The key was really a question of time and space, and we did not control that issue. The checking was to occur with the Pulaski County Clerk.
(e) “When we spoke with Circuit Clerk Pat O’Brien, he welcomed us, said there was plenty of room, and that he felt an obligation to conduct public business in public. We availed ourselves of that right. Mr. Carpenter gets a demerit. We look forward to your response, and to written guidelines on how petition signatures are to be validated.”
When I talked to Mr. O’Brien, I asked the question about room. It was really an issue for his office and not the City since the question was whether there was space. Frankly, I thought that there were observers.
Ms. Wells keeps asking for guidelines about the validation of signatures. There are three for this type of recall petition, and that all come from, or are naturally the result of, the statute: (1) The person lives in the ward; (2) The person is a registered voter; (3) The person provides sufficient information – name, address – to certify that the person is a registered voter who lives in the ward. A failure in any of these three requirements means that the signature will not be validated. The second point may lead to invalidation because of illegibility. Since these are common sense as much as anything else, there is really nothing to write down.
Please let me know if you have any questions. This letter has been sent to you as City officials, instead of the various press outlets contacted by Ms. Wells, because I thought you should have my response since I am your employee.