Candidates hope to solve River Falls confusion

Published 1:58 am Saturday, August 11, 2012

At least two candidates in the upcoming River Falls municipal election hope to organize a meeting of all candidates to work out an agreement about potential legal issues surrounding the election.

Earlier this week, The Star-News reported that River Falls officials had been unable to produce an official election district map, and that some candidates appeared to have been placed in the wrong district when they qualified. At the time, all election materials were in the hands of the current mayor, Mary Hixon.

Yesterday, The Star-News updated the story. Hixon has turned over election materials to town clerk MaryAnn Andrews, who located what she believed to be an official voting district map, and moved three council members who had qualified to seek office in the wrong district to the correct district. Andrews also said she ordered new ballots reflecting the changes.

When The Star-News asked the Attorney General’s office about the reclassification, Jeff Sommer, the AG’s director of constituent affairs, said, “If a candidate or citizen believes the process is not legal, the candidate or citizen should talk to a private attorney about their options.”

The other option, it appears, is for them to work it out amongst themselves.

On Thursday, mayoral candidate Patricia Gunter and the district 2, place 1 incumbent Mattie Freeney met with Covington County Probate Judge Ben Bowden. By state law, Bowden is the election official for county elections. He said Friday that while neither he nor any other county official has jurisdiction over municipal elections, that both he and District Attorney Walt Merrell have offered to work with those involved and help them mediate a solution.

The women said Bowden suggested an organizational meeting among all the candidates.

“With everyone in the same room, at the same time so we can look at the map and make sure everyone all understands the map,” Gunter said. “And for those candidates in the districts, make sure they all agree on it,” Gunter said.

“Then, if it’s to everyone’s satisfaction or it’s not, go from there,” she said.

Freeney said consulting an attorney would be “the last thing we would do.”

After changes were made to the ballot Thursday, Freeney, the incumbent for district 2, place 1 seat, faces no opposition.

“I know the candidates have been informed (of the changes),” she said. “We are waiting to speak with (town clerk MaryAnn Andrews) before taking the next step. Hopefully, the ballots have not been printed.”

Freeney said she was told municipal election regulations are based on town population.

“Whatever we do we will have to make sure we are within our rights as a small town,’ she said.

Richard Bowden, one of the three candidates affected by the change, said he would attend a meeting if one were organized.

“I want (the River Falls) community to stay vibrant and alive,” Richard Bowden said. “And if my community wants my services, I’m more than willing to attend a meeting and serve.”

Richard Bowden is running for the district 1, place 1 seat against the incumbent, Loy Ray Morgan, Cleveland Harris Jr. and Willie Howard Jr.

Both Harris and Howard were reclassified from Freeney’s district to Morgan’s district.

The Star-News attempted to ask Mayor Hixon if she would attend such a meeting, but she hung up as soon as the reporter identified herself.


Kendra Bolling also contributed to this story.