Despite some recent revelations, an air of mystery still surrounds an ongoing investigation into what officials say is a fake document that attempted to change the filing deadlines for candidates for municipal offices in Helena-West Helena.
The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
Updated Jul. 26, 2012 @ 4:22 pm
Updated Jul. 26, 2012 @ 4:22 pm
» Social News
Despite some recent revelations, an air of mystery still surrounds an ongoing investigation into what officials say is a fake document that attempted to change the filing deadlines for candidates for municipal offices in Helena-West Helena. Here's what we know. Linda White, county clerk for Phillips County, told the Helena World that Christopher Franklin, a current city council member, hand delivered the alleged “fake document” to the clerk's office. The document includes a file stamp from White's office showing its filing May 21, a day before the state's preferential primary. “The ordinance was missing the ordinance code that I interjected on top of the document,” said White. White added that she did not know who gave Franklin the authority to turn the document into her. In an interview following Tuesday night's city council session, Franklin told a Helena World reporter that he indeed delivered the document to the county clerk. From there the paper trail somewhat darkens. Franklin said another council member advised him where the document was located but he did not reveal the name of that council member, past or present. Phillips County Circuit Judge Richard Proctor launched an investigation based on the testimony of Mayor Arnell Willis and City Clerk Sandi Ramsey that stated that the city council had not voted to make the change. The testimony came about as the result of a lawsuit filed by three Phillips County residents – Howard Newsome, Rev. Cedric Pride and Leon Rinke – challenging the legality of the document. State law says municipal candidates must file between July 27 and Aug. 17 and any change must be made at least 90 days before the filing deadline. On July 13, Proctor ordered the July through August filing period be honored. Eight candidates filed petitions on the erroneous May 21 filing deadline. They were LaSalle English, Kafreda Reynolds, John Huff Jr., Andrew Bagley and incumbents Lakesia Chandler, Larry Brown, Monica Davis, Don Etherly, Marvin Jarrett and Franklin. Those contacted by The Helena World offered “no comment” or phone calls were not immediately returned. Reynolds is a member of the County Clerk Office staff. Council members Eddie Clark, Daniel Strickland, Joe St. Columbia and Jay Hollowell reported that they were totally unaware of the “change in the filing period.” “I don't know where it came from,” commented St. Columbia. “I was shocked. I don't recall any such changes being made and I pretty well attend all the meetings.” “An attempt to circumvent state statutes by doctoring this ordinance was made,” said Alderman Jay Hollowell. “There was a group of individuals, some seated on the council and some that were not, that filed before the preferential primary. I was unaware this had occurred until the Monday afternoon before the primary election.” Franklin said he believes the document is legal. “That petition is legal, I promise you. I got it out of the codebook and copied it,” said Franklin. “It states that if you are running as an independent you can file before the general election.” Franklin claims the ordinance was passed in 2008 and 2010 by the previous city council. He produced an audiotape of then Mayor James Valley reading Ordinance 21-2010 as a motion and was carried and adopted by the council. “That's law,” confirmed Franklin. However, according to City Attorney Chalk Mitchell and several council members who were part of the previous council do not recall anything resembling that ordinance ever coming before the council. “The body of the council would have had to approve the ordinance and by state law, the city clerk (Ramsey) would have had to submit it for publication,” stated Mitchell. A search of Helena World advertising records Wednesday turned up no evidence that such an ordinance was ever published in the local newspaper. Mitchell added that a legal ordinance would eventually have to be filed with the Arkansas Municipal League for codification. “…If you take time to look at the 2.10 modification the section is not there and what you find is a blank space where the altered text has been inserted,” commented Mitchell. Mitchell reported that he is in the process of providing a summary of the situation to Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long consistent with Judge Proctor's instructions. “It is a strong possibility that those found responsible for such action could face felony charges,” said Mitchell, “but for that to happen I think the feds will have to get involved. It is my job to make sure that the rights of the citizens are protected. Whoever did this has complete disregard for the rights of the citizens to participate in the electoral process.”