Peters’s residency contested

Published 12:16 am Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The questionable residency of current Florala mayoral candidate Newton Peters has prompted one Florala resident and former mayoral candidate to file a complaint with the local police department.

Jimmy Lassiter, who came in last in the four-candidate mayor’s race with 54 votes of the 489 votes cast, filed his complaint with the Florala Police Department on Sept. 2. Lassiter alleges Peters and his wife, Quanz, violated state law when they registered to vote using a false physical address.

Peters, who finished with 135 votes in the election, will face Robert Williamson in a runoff Oct. 7. Williamson led a field of four mayoral candidates with 208 votes.

Section 11-43-1, Code of Alabama 1975 states that: “every mayor, council, member and officer elected by the whole electorate of a city or town shall be a resident and qualified elector of the city or town and shall reside within the limits of the city or town during the term of office.”

Peters and his wife, for many years, have resided at 5913 Peters Rd., in a residence just outside of Florala’s city limits. Prior to qualifying to seek the office of mayor, Peters installed a mobile home at 22597 Longview Ave., an address that is well within the city limits of Florala.

Peters said before he qualified for office, he spoke with individuals at both the League of Municipalities (ALM) and the Attorney General’s office to understand residency.

“Both offices stated to me that a candidate must have a physical presence in the district, as well as the intention to reside in the district,” Peters said. “I have a physical presence in Florala — and the intention to remain.”

Representatives from both the ALM and the AG’s office previously stated to The Star-News someone with a vested interest in the city — namely a resident — would have to file a complaint concerning Peters’ residency for a court to consider and ultimately determine if Peters was legally eligible to serve as mayor if elected.

Lassiter said he filed the complaint because “it needed to be done” but stated he couldn’t afford to follow through with the required civil suit.

“I felt like the circumstances warranted an investigation,” Lassiter said. “That’s what it boils down to. The (Covington County District Attorney’s Office) said the complaint should go to the (Attorney General’s) office. The AG’s office said I should make a report in Florala, so that’s what I did.

“Everybody said that voter laws are so vague, and that they’re open to interpretation,” he said. “They told me to hire an attorney and see where it goes. There’s a line on the bottom of the voter registration form that says if you sign the statement even though it’s untrue, you can be convicted and sent to jail for five years.

“I don’t want them to go to jail,” he said. “I just want him disqualified from the election. By him running it tells people that anyone can come into town, register to vote — even when they don’t live here — and run for office. It’s not right.”

Peters said the Alabama Secretary of State’s Web site lists the minimum requirements to run for mayor as a being a resident for 90 days prior to the election and being a registered voter.

He said the AG’s office couldn’t define what the requirement for establishing a residence was but cited a court case that stated, “an individual must establish residence with the intention to remain permanently or for an unlimited time.”

“This could even be interpreted as a tent or a motor home setup on Lake Jackson,” he said. “I’m glad issues like these come up. It really gets individuals involved in the election process, and this is a great thing for Florala.

“However, the main issue that we face as a city is not my residency, but rather how are we going to move forward as a city,” he said. “We need someone who understands Florala and knows the intricacies of government. I was raised in this city, attended elementary school, middle school and graduated from high school here. Now I have an opportunity to give back to a city that helped raise me.

“To use what I’ve learned in government the past 20 years and not to give up at the first sign of trouble,” he said. “I’m not a quitter, and with all integrity and credibility can say I am a citizen of Florala.”

Citizens will return to the polls on Tues., Oct. 7, to determine who will be Florala’s next mayor.