Woodward Joins Crowded Primary

By Bill Dries

A public meeting is about to begin, and within one minute of attendees’ arrival, they are handed campaign literature for rival candidates running in the same local primary.


It’s obviously the thick of political season.

Campaign workers for General Sessions Court clerk Democratic rivals Sidney Chism and Otis Jackson struck up a generally friendly conversation among themselves this week at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church before scrambling to beat each other to new arrivals.

Earlier this month, well after the Dec. 8 filing deadline for candidates, another name was added to the primary skirmish that tops the March 6 county primary ballot.

Karen Woodward was disqualified last month by the Shelby County Election Commission because she submitted her petition minutes after the noon deadline.

Woodward complained she was present well before noon but no clerk at the commission was available to take her petition. The election commission took the position she could have submitted her petition but instead waited until just before she thought the doors to the office would close at noon. When the doors didn’t close at noon, she filed.

She contested her disqualification in Chancery Court, and Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled that her name should be put on the ballot.

It’s the latest wrinkle in an election season where the election commission just this week got the formal notice necessary to begin issuing petitions for the seven district races for the countywide school board on the Aug. 2 ballot. Petitions for other county and municipal general election races were being issued as of Jan. 6.

And late last year, Millington leaders voted to change the date of their municipal elections normally held the third week in September to coincide with the August ballot starting this year.

The qualifying petitions in the races for mayor and the board of aldermen started being issued as of Jan. 6 and are lumped in on the Shelby County Election Commission website with a list of old petitions pulled for the March county primary races.

The filings so far show former Millington Mayor Terry Jones has a petition out for the mayor’s race.

Woodward attributed her struggle to get on the March Shelby County primary ballot to a combination of “red tape and politics.”

It was a different kind of red tape that prompted her to make the race in the first place.

Woodward was trying to get information in General Sessions Court on a DUI case in which a family friend was killed.

“I was trying to use General Sessions to get information for the family and I couldn’t get the information I needed,” she said, adding she had to rely on those working with attorneys in the case “to get me information I felt I should be able to log into the (computer) system and get.”

Woodward is a business owner who said she has always thought about running for elected office and waited until her two daughters were a bit older.

“I’m coming from the private sector. I understand how to stretch a dollar because I’ve always had to,” said the owner-operator of her own insurance agency. “I would like to take that knowledge and experience … and create the computer system that is user friendly for everybody.”

Woodward is also a former Shelby County Schools teacher and a former vice president of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.

Her signs have just started going up. With early voting beginning Feb. 15, Woodward says she has a garage full of more signs ready to go in what is now a five-way race for the Democratic nomination.

The race was already unusual. It features the elected incumbent Otis Jackson, who was suspended last year following his indictment on corruption charges, and Ed Stanton Jr., the retired head of the civil division of the clerk’s office. Stanton was appointed by the General Sessions Court judges to be interim clerk. The same primary features a bid for the job by Shelby County Commission chairman Sidney Chism as well as former high school principal and championship basketball coach Marion Brewer.

The winner of the Democratic primary faces the winner of the August GOP primary between Rick Rout and James Finney as well as independent candidate Patricia Jackson.

It can be frustrating to try to find on the election commission website a list of candidates in those and other races on the ballot. There is no header on the Web page as there has been in the past to direct users to a simple list.