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Questions about Loachapoka’s municipal election remain unanswered

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Downtown Loachapoka

Loachapoka Town Hall lies alongside Alabama 14.

Ben McDaniel began to worry something was wrong with the election process in Loachapoka when he filed paperwork and Mayor Jim Grout told him the incumbents on the Town Council didn’t have to file paperwork.

Confusion over the election law led the town not to hold any election on the scheduled day of Aug. 23.

Under Alabama law, if a candidate in a municipal election faces no opposition they are declared the winner and presented with a certificate of election at the next city meeting.

McDaniel was the only person to file a statement of candidacy with the city and the only candidate with a copy of an appointment of a principal campaign committee on file with the Lee County Probate Office as required by Alabama law.

Grout confirmed to the Opelika-Auburn News in August that he accepted McDaniel’s paperwork, but said there was a problem and directed all further questions to Travis Wisdom, attorney for the town of Loachapoka.

Wisdom told the News in a story on Aug. 12 that a licensed surveyor had conducted a survey and determined McDaniel did not live in the town limits – something McDaniel disputes.

After the story was published, Wisdom said he had learned no survey had been conducted, but a licensed surveyor signed an opinion stating that McDaniel did not live in the town limits.

Wisdom refused to provide a copy of the letter to the News.

“Just because the city procures something, doesn’t make it public,” Wisdom said.

Wisdom also said the Town Council confirmed with a Lee County official that McDaniel didn’t live in Loachapoka.

Roger Rendleman, Lee County administrator, said he was contacted and asked about a plot of land that is owned by McDaniel north of Loachapoka town limits. However, McDaniel owns a plot directly to the south of the plot Rendleman was asked about that is inside the town limits, where McDaniel lives in a small one-room house.

Rendleman said he was not asked about the southern plot of land.

McDaniel said he has still not been officially told that he’s been disqualified as a candidate.

Disqualifying a candidate

Under Alabama law, a town clerk or mayor has no power to judge the qualifications of a candidate filing a statement of candidacy, but if there are questions about the candidate’s qualifications, they must be determined by a court, according to Ed Packard, director of elections with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office.

“Someone would have either needed to file a pre-election contest or a post-election contest challenging that person’s qualifications to have participated in the election,” Packard said.

The Alabama League of Municipalities also agrees with Packard’s reading of the law on its website.

“(The mayor or town clerk’s) only job is to receive the statements which are properly filled out and see to it that the names of the candidates are properly placed on the ballot,” the league’s website reads.

McDaniel said if Loachapoka followed state law, he should have received a certificate of election as Loachapoka’s next mayor at Loachapoka’s August town meeting.

“It just kind of concerns me that there’s really nobody enforcing election laws,” McDaniel said.

The Opelika-Auburn News reached out multiple times to Wisdom for comment.

McDaniel said he’s scheduled a meeting with Wisdom on Monday to see if he can find a solution.

“I definitely don’t want the town to have to pay for an attorney for an entire trial or anything like that,” McDaniel said.

Intimidation

In August, McDaniel discovered someone had trespassed onto his property near his home and his dog, McKinley, had been shot.

The dog survived the shooting but had to be put to sleep because of her injuries.

A few days later, he noticed a drone flying above his house and tracing out the lines of his property.

“I think any logical person would be concerned with all of that happening in such a short period of time, but we’re not really worried,” McDaniel said. “If it is intimidation tactics, then it’s not going to work.”

Loachapoka’s next town meeting is Monday.

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