HURRICANE -– In a scene reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, questionable ballots have resulted in the candidates for Hurricane's mayoral race turning to the courts to determine the rightful winner.
Officially, Scott D. Edwards is Hurricane's mayor. In the city municipal election held June 12, Edwards, 37, president of Netranom Communications, pulled out a come-from-behind victory over challenger Sam Cole.
Both Cole, 70, a retired assistant state Treasurer, and Edwards were vying to replace long-time Mayor Raymond Peak. Though Peak was stepping down from the post he's held on-and-off for the last 40 years, he decided to keep active in city government by seeking council seat.
However, in the field of 10 candidates, he placed dead last.
Returns throughout the night showed Cole leading Edwards by 85 votes. Also, those running on the Peoples Party ticket with Cole, Don Mangus for city recorder, and Brian Ellis, Patty Hager, Lana Call and Donald Chaney for council, commanded a solid lead.
When the ballots for early voting were tabulated around 1 a.m., however, the lead shifted to Edwards giving him the victory by 25 votes. Likewise, the early balloting favored incumbent city recorder Linda Gibson who defeated Mangus by 65 votes.
Though Ellis, Hager, Call and Chaney managed to hang on and win seats on council, incumbent councilman Reggie Billups, who was placing sixth all night, came in second in the balloting when the early votes were counted.
Call, who requested a representative from the Secretary of State's Office monitor the election for possible fraud, questioned the manner in which the early ballots were secured. After requesting a recount, which reaffirmed Edwards the winner, Cole initiated the first of the lawsuits contesting the election.
One order trumps another
On July 6, with the assistance of Winfield attorneys David O. Moye and Lisa Moye, Cole filed suit against the city of Hurricane. In his complaint and lawsuit, Cole alleges that the early ballots were tainted because they "were not placed in secrecy envelopes with a seal" and were thus "improperly included by the Defendants in determining the successful candidate for mayor."
"Without the inclusion of the ballots for early voters," Cole says in his suit, "the Plaintiff would have been the successful candidate for Mayor."
In his suit, Cole named the Putnam County Commission as a co-defendant.
Though the Commission was later dismissed from the suit, Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding held a hearing on Sep. 13 on the city's motion to dismiss Cole's suit.
According to court records, what came out of the hearing was an agreement that the issue be remanded back to the council for it to decide the winner of the mayoral race. On Sep. 24, Spaulding issued his order with the understanding that "Upon a ruling from the city council of the city of Hurricane, an appeal may be filed with this court."
However, two days later, Edwards filed a writ of prohibition with Putnam Circuit Judge Ed Eagloski to prevent the council from making that decision. In his suit, Edwards names Gibson, who ran with Edwards on the Citizens Party ticket, and all five council members as defendants.
In his writ, filed with the assistance of Harvey D. and Thomas H. Peyton, with the Peyton Law Firm in Nitro, Edwards said Cole's suit, and Spaulding's order, have no merit. Quoting from state law, Edwards says that Cole missed the 10-day deadline to contest the election.
According to court records, Edwards alleges Cole did not notify him of his intention to contest the election, and notified Gibson of his intention on Sep. 19, 85 days after the election.
"The contestant, Same [sic] Cole, has never given the contestee, Scott Edwards notice in writing of the contestant's intention to contest the Hurricane municipal election of June 12, 2007," Edwards states in his writ.
"Because no timely notice has ever been given by Sam Cole to petitioner, the defendants, as the governing body of the City of Hurricane, are without jurisdiction to entertain, hear or determine the purported "Petition to Contest Election" mailed to defendant Gibson on September 19, 2007."
According to court records, Eagloski ruled on Edwards' writ 18 minutes after it was filed. In his order, Eagloski said "the Court has read the verified petition and the exhibit attached thereto…and finds that the verified petition makes a prima facie case for the issuance of the writ prayed for."
In his order, Eagloski ordered that Gibson and all the council members appear before him on Friday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m. to show cause why Edwards' writ should not be granted. As of press time, Cole and the city council were preparing their respective responses to Eagloski's order.
Nothing was said about it during the course of the council's regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Oct. 1.
Putnam Circuit Court, Case Nos. 07-C- 226 (Cole) and 07-C-332 (Edwards)