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Hattiesburg resident challenges council candidate’s qualifications to run

Each candidate will be on the general election ballot with no party affiliation denoted.
Each candidate will be on the general election ballot with no party affiliation denoted.(WDAM)
Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 6:39 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A Democratic candidate’s qualifications to run for Hattiesburg City Council in the April primary are being challenged by a resident of the ward he seeks to represent.

Joseph Lanford filed the petition in Forrest County Circuit Court on Friday challenging the Democratic Executive Committee of Hattiesburg’s decision that Bradly James Pope Parker is a qualified candidate for Ward 4 councilman.

Lanford, a Ward 4 resident, alleges Parker has not been a resident of Hattiesburg for two years immediately preceding the primary election date in accordance with a Mississippi law passed in 2019 that went into effect in 2020.

The petition also claims Parker was not a resident of Ward 4 on the day he qualified or by the qualifying deadline. The petition cites a recent opinion from Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch that said the two-year residency requirement also applies to the wards in which candidates are running in, though the last-minute opinion has led to some confusion.

A Democratic candidate for Ward 1, Ken Chambers, had his candidacy challenged on similar grounds by Incumbent Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George.

According to Lanford’s petition, Parker first registered to vote in Mississippi on Sept. 11, 2019, using an address on Pine Bark Cove in Hattiesburg, which is in Ward 1. It claims Parker voted at a precinct in Ward 1 as recently as the November 2020 general election.

Parker filed candidate qualifying paperwork on Feb. 1, 2021, using an address on Dabbs Street in Ward 4.

Lanford claims Parker’s voter registration address remained in Ward 1 until at least Feb. 10, 2021, five days after the candidate qualifying deadline.

The petition claims Forrest County land records for the Ward 4 address show that a warranty deed to Parker and his wife was entered into land record rolls on Feb. 1, 2021, with a deed of trust.

It said no account for services with the Hattiesburg Water and Sewer Department existed in Parker’s name for the Ward 4 address, though an account in the name of a woman believed to be Parker’s wife existed for the Ward 1 address, with the latest bill being paid on Feb. 1.

The petition said an account in that woman’s name was opened at the Ward 4 address on Jan. 29, 2021, though it argues “real property ownership does not equate to residency.”

Lanford filed a petition contesting Parker’s qualifications with the Democratic Executive Committee on Feb. 11. A hearing was held on Feb. 17, and the committee upheld Parker’s qualifications the next day.

According to the petition, the executive committee relied on Mississippi Code Ann. § 21-8-7 (2) and other codes to uphold Parker’s qualifications, though Lanford argues that the law is only applicable to the formation of mayor-council governments and not the continuing operation of them.

Parker released a statement to WDAM on Monday saying that the 2019 election law was not applicable and that he meets residency requirements.

The petition requests the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint a judge to hear the case and find that Parker is not a qualified candidate for Ward 4 councilperson.

The municipal primary is set for April 6.

Incumbent Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden and Dave Ware have qualified as independent candidates and will be on the ballot in the June 8 general election.

Copyright 2021 WDAM. All rights reserved.