Allegation of ineligibility shrouds Sebastian County Treasurer/Collector race

by Aric Mitchell ( 1,104 views 

The race for Sebastian County Treasurer/Collector, now held by incumbent Judith Miller, now includes allegations of a late filing that, if found true, could disqualify Democratic candidate Jeannie Wilson.

A source from within Sebastian County government who wished to remain anonymous contacted Talk Business & Politics and said Miller had vocalized her displeasure to others within the county system, questioning the legitimacy of Sebastian County Clerk Sharon Brooks’ actions in granting approval of Wilson’s filing. Separate sources, including Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue confirmed that the allegations were brought to the Sebastian County Election Commission. Shue stressed, however, he had not talked to Miller.

Miller told Talk Business & Politics she would provide a statement, but has since refused and has not responded to repeated phone calls.

The allegation is that Wilson did not sign the “Political Practices Pledge” when she completed her candidate paperwork before the filing deadline. Miller alleges that when the error was noticed, Wilson was allowed by Brooks after the deadline to sign the document.

Wilson did not provide comment on the matter to Talk Business & Politics, instead pointing to Taylor Riddle, chief of staff of the state’s Democratic party, and attorney Chris Burks for an official statement.

Referencing Arkansas Code Section 7-7-301, Burks said state law “authorizes parties to issue these documents, and anybody that pays the filing fee gets these documents, and they’re filed with the County Clerk’s office. Once the Clerk files them and accepts responsibility, it goes on the County Clerk at that point. If there is an error in the documents, the County Clerk can fix that herself. Once it’s filed, it’s in the Clerk’s world. My understanding is that if there was an error, the Clerk fixed it in her world and that fix is retroactive to the date of filing, because Clerks have the authority to fix any scriveners’ errors. That’s my general sense of what happened, or what may have happened.”

What “did not happen in this case,” Burks said, was the candidate failing to file during the filing period.

“Here, you have a candidate who pays the fee, gets the party receipt, gets issued the party certificate, and then files that during the filing period. All of that happened during the time required by law in this case, and it sounds like there might have been some scrivener’s error.”

Wilson “did everything lawfully and on time,” Riddle said, adding there had been “some error in the political practices pledge and the clerk corrected that. A fix of the scrivener’s error relates back to the date of the filing of the document.” Burks and Riddle said they did not have the specifics in front of them as to what the error was during the phone conversation. Riddle said he had spoken to someone in the Sebastian County Clerk’s Office who mentioned “maybe the form wasn’t filled out in its entirety.”

“What was not filled out, I don’t know,” he added. Asked if they had been legally engaged by anyone over the matter, the pair said they had not, only that there was “a lot of gossip out there on it,” but no official action.

Brooks provided this statement: “In response to your request, the 2018 Candidate Certification list was certified to the County Board Election Commission on Friday, March 2, 2018. The Political Practices Pledge was attached to the Certification for each of the Candidates.”

Shue, in his role as Sebastian County Prosecutor, represents the county’s election commission. He said Commissioner David Damron made him aware of the allegation. Shue told Talk Business & Politics the commission does not have the authority to remove someone from the ballot if approved by the county clerk. He said removing a name from the ballot requires a “judicial determination,” which would require someone to file a legal action seeking the ballot change.

Miller is no stranger to opponents in her elected position. She faced and defeated current Sebastian County Human Resources Director Steve Hotz in March of 2016, receiving 59% of the vote. Hotz will give it another shot in the May 22 Republican primary. Miller’s victory in 2016 was enough to win the position outright as there was no Democratic opponent two years ago. As it currently stands, the winner of the primary will have to face Wilson in November. Miller has held the position for over 9 years and worked in county government for three decades.

The Treasurer/Collector fills two separate roles, though the job is combined in Sebastian County. The Treasurer is the disbursement officer of the county and is the “unofficial” or “quasi comptroller,” according to the government’s website. The Treasurer is responsible for the custody and disbursement of all county funds and appropriate school district funds. The Treasurer receives Tax collections, county turnback funds, federal matching funds, state aid to school districts, and various revenues from other sources. The Treasurer distributes the funds received and serves as the banking officer for all county funds, depositing, disbursing, and investing for the county as prescribed by law.

The County Collector collects municipal, county, school, and improvement district taxes. The taxes collected are turned over to the County Treasurer on a monthly basis for distribution to the taxing entities. The Collector is responsible for collecting all property taxes from March 1 through October 15 during the calendar year after the year of assessment. Each December, the Collector prepares the list of delinquent taxes as well.

Talk Business & Politics Executive Editor Michael Tilley contributed to this report.