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Hattiesburg councilman challenges candidate’s eligibility in municipal election

The two initiatives are on the Hattiesburg City Council's agenda for Tuesday night's meeting.
The two initiatives are on the Hattiesburg City Council's agenda for Tuesday night's meeting.(WDAM)
Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 4:45 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg City Councilman filed a petition Friday challenging the qualifications of a Democratic candidate for Ward 1 in the upcoming municipal election.

Incumbent Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George, a Republican, filed the petition in Forrest County Circuit Court asking for a judicial review of Ken Chambers’ eligibility as a Democratic candidate.

George is seeking a second term as Ward 1 councilman after defeating Chambers in the 2017 municipal election.

In the court filing, George claims Chambers has not been a resident of Hattiesburg for two years immediately preceding the election date, which is required by a Mississippi law passed in 2019 that went into effect in 2020.

A recent opinion from Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said the two-year residency requirement also applies to candidates living inside the ward for which they are seeking office, though there has been some confusion regarding the last-minute opinion.

A Democratic candidate for Ward 4, Brad Parker, had his candidacy challenged on similar grounds by a Ward 4 resident.

George previously filed a petition with the Democratic Executive Committee of Forrest County on Feb. 12. A hearing was held on Feb. 17, and the committee upheld Chambers’ qualifications the next day.

According to George’s petition, the executive committee relied on Mississippi Code Ann. § 21-8-7 (2) and other code sections in denying his original petition. George argues that section of Mississippi law concerns only the formation of mayor-council governments and not the continuing operation of them.

The petition cites as evidence Chambers using a Lamar County address on Edna Drive, which is outside the city limits, to vote absentee in the November 2020 general election. Chambers’s voter registration was changed to Edna Drive on June 2, 2020, and he cast his absentee ballot in October, certifying under oath that he resided at the address.

Map of all five City of Hattiesburg wards. The red circle is the approximate location of Edna...
Map of all five City of Hattiesburg wards. The red circle is the approximate location of Edna Drive.(City of Hattiesburg)

Chambers also registered a business with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office in April 2020 using the Edna Drive address as his own. In its formation documents, Chambers is listed as the chief executive manager of Stonerock Monuments and Signs LLC.

Chambers changed his voter registration from the Edna Drive address to an address on North 28th Avenue in Ward 1 on Dec. 8, 2020, according to a voter registration application.

A month later, on Jan. 19, Chambers filed qualifying paperwork with the city to run as a Democratic candidate in April’s primary.

Chambers issued a statement to WDAM on Monday saying he has been a registered voter in Hattiesburg for more than 15 years and that he views the petition as “an attempt to suppress the vote, my candidacy and the voting process.”

George released a statement saying that the petition “is about upholding the integrity of basic election law and ensuring that everyone is following the rules that have been put in place.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court appointed Judge Stephen B. Simpson to hear the petition.

You can view Chambers’ full statement below:

George’s full statement is below:

The municipal primary is set for April 6 followed by the general election on June 8.

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