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VOL. 123 | NO. 169 | Thursday, August 28, 2008

Memphis School Board Race In Limbo

By Bill Dries

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It looked like Memphis school board member Stephanie Gatewood was on her way to re-election without opposition on the Nov. 4 ballot.

That was until Wednesday (Aug. 27) – the day before the Shelby County Election Commission certified the local portion of the ballot.

That’s when Gatewood learned she might not be on the ballot because she a campaign finance report is overdue.

That would have left no one in the race for the district one school board seat representing Frayser and Raleigh.

It might still, Election Commissioners voted Thursday evening to delay certifying candidates in that race at least until Tuesday to get more specific legal opinions from Tennessee Election Coordinator Brook Thompson.

Election Commissioners couldn’t recall another instance where a local general election race had no candidates on the ballot.

Election Commissioner Shep Wilbun described the situation as “uncharted waters.”

“That raises some unusual circumstances that we generally have not faced before,” Wilbun said. “That gives me great concern where there’s no candidate listed in the race at all.”

This is what happened:

Gatewood had an existing campaign account from her 2007 run for the Memphis City Council. She got a campaign contribution for $45 which she wasn’t required to report because it was under $100. She did and it triggered the requirement for a finance report due in July and for purposes of running for another office, even re-election to the school board, due before the filing deadline for that next run. In this case, the deadline was Aug. 21.

“I wanted to insure that I filed everything that came to me,” Gatewood told The Daily News. “So being as honest as I can be, I opened it back up not realizing that I had to file yet another mid year report. If I had opened this up in December, I wouldn’t have had to file a mid year report.”

Election Commission administrator James Johnson said notices of the report and its due date were mailed to Gatewood. Gatewood said she didn’t get them and she hasn’t been fined by the state registry of election finance.

That is one of the points state election officials will offer an opinion on. Does the lack of a fine make any difference?

Johnson said the election commission did make exceptions to the report deadlines until a precedent setting 2005 Chancery Court ruling involving Michael Hooks Sr.

Hooks, then a County Commissioner running in the Democratic primary for the State Senate, took the Election Commission to court after they disqualified him because of overdue campaign finance reports.

Chancellor Arnold Goldin ordered Hooks put on the ballot because the Election Commission had been inconsistent in enforcing the rule on overdue reports. Since then, Johnson said, local election officials have been careful to enforce the rule evenly.

Johnson said he and his staff have until approximately Sept. 5 before they must lay out and print ballots and prepare them for mailing to absentee voters and voters from Memphis in the military.

The Election Commission is tentatively scheduled to meet again Tuesday to get the latest opinion from state election officials on the matter.

Meanwhile, election commissioners certified the fields in the other four school board races as well as the special election for Memphis City Council Super District 9 Position 1.

What had been an eleven candidate council field at the Aug. 21 deadline to file qualifying petitions wound up being a four candidate race.

The candidates are:

- Kemp Conrad, who ran for the council in 2007.

- Paul Shaffer, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 474.

- John Willingham, former Shelby County Commissioner.

- Arnett Montague III.

Conrad is the only one of four council candidates from the 2007 city elections who remained in the race. Brian Stephens, Antonio Parkinson and Lester Lit all withdrew earlier in the week.

Also certified was a three candidate race for Memphis School board At Large Position 1.

Incumbent Freda Williams faces a challenge from Menelik Fombi and Cynthia Gentry.

The other three school board races were effectively decided at the deadline as incumbents Jeff Warren, Tomeka Hart and Patrice Robinson drew no opposition in their individual races.

PROPERTY SALES 66 66 6,612
MORTGAGES 78 78 4,207
BUILDING PERMITS 158 158 16,073
BANKRUPTCIES 45 45 3,441