Postponement of Fair Board election irregular, inconvenient

Staff photo.

By Joey McWilliams

BRYAN COUNTY – The Bryan County Fair Board election scheduled for Monday morning has been postponed until Saturday, Feb. 23 from 8 a.m. until noon. The county commissioner board and county clerk gave notice to the paper of record in Durant this information on Friday afternoon to get it in the Saturday edition of the publication.

The reason for the postponement was a ‘typo’ in the announcement of filing period that had been sent to publication.

The Patriot was not initially informed of this postponement.

This brings up a line of thought – how often are local, county, state or federal elections are postponed? It certainly doesn’t happen for rain, sleet, snow or dark of night.

The postponement of this election, due to the manner in which it was set up, provides inconveniences for any who were wanting to vote in it because of the preparation that had to be made. The window for voting was/is just four hours (8 a.m. until noon) as opposed to the regular election window of 12 hours (7 a.m. until 7 p.m.).

Voting precincts are in only three places in the entire county – Durant, Achille and Bokchito.

Anyone who is employed and working during the week that chooses to vote in this election would have to make arrangements during the work day to do so. Those who made those arrangements for today had to, at the last minute, make other arrangements or simply lose that time at work.

This setup does not allow the ease to get to a polling place that every other election in the county provides for. But then this election, as opposed to every other election in the county, is not overseen by the Bryan County Election Board.

The Bryan County Fair Board election is overseen by… the Bryan County Fair Board.

However, when called about the change to the election date, Fair Board president Larry Conditt said on Friday afternoon that he had just found out about it a couple of hours ago and that he had nothing to do with it.

“My understanding is that they amended the resolution today,” Conditt said. “‘They’ are the commissioners that passed the resolution. They’re the only ones in the county that can.

“I can’t do a resolution; I’m just a citizen. Tony Simmons called me.”

The Patriot attempted to contact each of the county commissioners for comment about the issue.

Commissioner Ron Boyer of District 1 said he did not initiate the change, but said he confirmed its legality. Commissioner Jay Perry of District 3 talked about the ‘typo.’

“It was my understanding that they had made some mistakes on the dates, so to be fair to everyone they wanted to redo it. So I said they need to call the auditor or call the D.A. to make sure we’re doing it right,” Perry said.

To get a better understanding of this morass, it might help to get a look at the legislature creating the Fair Board itself. It was established by the 1937 Free Fair Act to be a mine-member board to manage the fiscal affairs of the free fair association and the fair grounds and buildings.

The directors are to be elected from each county commissioner’s district for a three-year term, with terms staggered so that one member from each district could be replaced each year. The act also specifies that a five-day filing period be set to declare candidacy for election to the board and that the filing period begin in January.

The county commissioner board decided this year that because the paper of record for the city comes out only three days each week that the filing period should be 10 days long. This was not stipulated by the 1937 Act.

Additionally, the way the resolution was drawn up allowed for potential issues, not because of a typographical error.

According to the resolution, which was resolved on Tuesday, Jan. 29, the filing period was stated to be Tuesday, Jan. 29 through Monday, Feb. 11. It was also stipulated in the resolution that the election would be held on Monday, Feb. 11. In essence, people could still file and declare candidacy in an election which had already happened earlier in the day on Monday.

The Patriot pointed out this wording to commissioners and the county clerk’s office on Jan. 31, but was told repeatedly that it didn’t matter because ‘no one will file after the election.’ The decision to make an adjustment on the date of the election took place on Feb. 8, the business day just prior to the election.

All three commissioners signed their names to the resolution, but none said who wrote the resolution.

“We all make mistakes,” Simmons said. “I signed the resolution without reading it through and totally understanding it, but you can’t have the election on the same day as filing is going on.

“I didn’t write that one. I assume it came from the clerk or the president of the fair board.”

Currently there are six names of candidates who have filed with the county clerk’s office, two in each district, meaning there will be an election in each district.

Those who have filed are Larry Conditt (incumbent), District 1; Ashley Stuteville, District 1; Marty Hutchings (incumbent), District 2; Ken Edelen, District 2; Russell Thompson (incumbent), District 3;  Roger Hedgecock, District 3.

Sources close to some who have filed for candidacy have suggested there may be another reason for the abrupt last-minute change. Those who were already in office were not prepared for an actual election.

The three incumbents filed midway through the filing period. The three candidates who seek those spots filed with the county clerk’s office on the morning of Friday, Feb. 8. It was suggested that the current fair board directors did not have the time to campaign in their districts as they had not expected to have a race. The incumbents now have additional time to rally voters that likely didn’t think were necessary to have come out and vote.

This postponement of a county election, and the timing thereof, is irregular at best.

“Anyway, we passed it through a meeting,” Simmons said. “The election is going to be on the 23rd and we’ll go from there.”

For those who will be going to vote in this election on a Saturday, the polling places are as follows:

• District No. 1: Community Building, Bryan County Fairgrounds
• District No. 2: County Barn, Achille
• District No. 3: County Barn, Bokchito


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