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Carson, Porter kicked off ballot

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They can appeal ruling or become write-ins in St. Elmo election

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Two days after hearing testimony from several individuals, a St. Elmo electoral board ruled that incumbent aldermen Lloyd Carson and Jayson Porter would be taken off the April 5 municipal election ballot.

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The electoral board, which was made up of Mayor Larry Tish (chairman), City Clerk Brenda Taylor and Alderwoman Theresa Riley, presented copies of its written rulings on Friday evening, but did not publicly announce its decision to the sizeable crowd present at the Phillips Building.
After presenting copies to Vandalia attorney Don Sheafor, who was representing Porter and Carson, and Effingham attorney Chad Choinicki, who represented objectors Rita Davis and Lyle Haslett, the hearing was adjourned, and Tish quickly donned his coat and left the building.
The ruling came two days after the actual hearing, which featured a number of dramatic moments.
After the hearing, Carson and Porter said they would be reviewing their options, which could include filing an appeal of the board’s ruling in circuit court or re-entering the April municipal election by becoming write-in candidates.
By law, the two men have 10 days from the date of the ruling to file an appeal in court, Sheafor said.
Prior to the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Sheafor submitted to Tish a motion asking that the mayor recuse himself from the board, due to circumstances surrounding the filing of the objections filed by Davis and Haslett.
In their objections, Davis and Haslett claimed that Carson and Porter, respectively, should be removed from the ballot because they did not include an adequate number of signatures with their nominating petitions.
As the hearing got under way, the electoral board sustained objections made by Choinicki on Sheafor’s request to file subpoenas for several individuals, including another aldermanic candidate whom he said would testify that Tish informed her of the correct number of signatures required for her nominating petition.
“As a mayor, he has a duty not to favor any candidates,” Sheafor argued. “He has the duty to give that to all candidates, not to people he chooses.
“He is the government, and the government is here to ensure that fair elections are held.”
Citing case law, Choinicki objected to all subpoenas, saying that the electoral board’s only power “was to review the proposed petitions by the proposed candidates and determine whether or not they have met the statutory requirements. That’s the sole issue before the board at this time.”
He also said, “It doesn’t matter if they (Carson and Porter) were misled, which I don’t believe any evidence will demonstrate that. If they don’t comply with the act, they don’t get on the ballot.”
Taylor made a motion to substain the objection, saying that she gave all candidates the same information, and that the candidates’ guide stated that candidates were advised to consult with legal counsel about their petitions.
“What Tish may or may not have done, and I don’t know, I can’t speak to that, but he had every right to speak to whomever he wanted,” Taylor said.
The board voted 2-1 to sustain Choinicki’s objection, with Riley casting the dissenting vote.
Sheafor also wanted to subpoena individuals who, he said, would testify that Tish and his father were seen at the homes of the objectors. “It appears that your (Tish) family is having close contact on a regular basis with the objectors.”
The board also sustained Choinicki’s objection to those subpoenas, with Choinicki again saying that such information was outside the scope of the hearing.
He said Sheafor’s attempts to bring in that information was “just a bunch of red herrings and a fishing expedition.”
Those who testified at the hearing included Davis, and Sheafor’s attempts to have her answer questions about her objection were repeatedly objected to.
At one point, Taylor said she agreed to Choinicki’s objection, and as Tish seconded her objection, members of the audience began to laugh.
“I’m going to ask the crowd to remain quiet,” Tish said. “We’re trying to conduct a hearing here.”
As the objections continued, Porter said to Sheafor, “You can see where this is going, Don.”
Others testifying included Kenneth “Cap” Haslett, a lifetime resident and former mayor of St. Elmo. One of the objections stated that Haslett’s signature should be stricken from a nominating petition because he gave an incorrect address.
Haslett testified that he was annexed into the city several years ago, and listed his post office box because he had done that for all previous elections.
Fayette County Clerk Terri Braun testified that her office gives “basic (election) information” to candidates, and that it gave signature requirements based on totals from the 2007 election, instead of those from last municipal election.
“In the past, we have used (every) four years, and I don’t think it’s right. We did this in the past because we thought it was the right way to do it,” she said.
Under cross-examination, Braun estimated that based on the 2009 numbers, the St. Elmo candidates would have had to obtain “seven or eight” signatures. Carson and Porter each had two signatures, which were enough based on the 2007 election totals.
She agreed with Choinicki when he asked, “So, it was just a mistake?”
Carson and Porter both testified that they received information at city hall that they needed only two signatures, and never heard otherwise.
As Carson was testifying, Tish and Taylor began injecting information. As that continued, Sheafor objected to that.
“They’re testifying,” he said. Choinicki asked who would rule on that objection.
“I don’t know,” Sheafor said. “They’re the body” making the ruling, he said.
“Maybe that’s why they shouldn’t be testifying,” Sheafor said. “They’re doing both (testifying and serving on the electoral board).”
Tish said to Sheafor, “I’m just trying to correct you.” He subsequently made a motion “to strike the electoral board’s interference.”
Porter testified that as he sought to get on the April ballot, “I followed the same procedure as before,” and that he followed instructions given to him by the city and county clerk’s offices.
Porter testified that after learning about the objection to his petition, he asked Taylor if Lyle Haslett had looked at his petitions, and she told him that he had not. “She told me, ‘I don’t even know who Lyle Haslett is.’”
Porter said he checked with other employees at city hall, and they said that they had not shown his petition to anyone.
When Porter intimated that Tish was involved in the objection to his petition, the mayor made a motion to sustain Choinicki’s objections on the line of questioning.
At one point, Porter asked if he could second one of Tish’s motions. “This is kind of a clown court anyway.”
When Tish asked Porter is he was making threats, Porter said, “I will get a fair trial. My day is coming, right? I will get to go to court?”
While testifying, Porter conceded that he would be OK with being given time to correct mistakes on his objection or to declare all candidates’ petitions invalid.
When Sheafor attempted to get into evidence Porter’s testimony about Tish’s father being at an objector’s house, Tish attempted to substain an objection to that testimony.
Shortly thereafter, after Porter made a comment, Tish said, “Will you control your client, Mr. Sheafor?”
In his closing statement, Choinicki said simply, “The petitions (filed by Carson and Porter) do not pass muster.”
Any error by the municipality, he said, “does not allow the candidates to get away from the statutory requirements.”
Sheafor said in his closing statement, “This is not just an administrative error,” attempting once again to get into evidence that some candidates were given correct information, while his clients were not.
“It is the utmost duty of any government in this country to make sure that there are fair and free elections, and I believe we could believe that was not provided in this case,” he said.
“By the mayor telling some candidate they could use eight signatures, and choosing not to tell others, that’s just absolutely improper,” Sheafor said.
“At a bare minimum, they (Carson and Porter) are not asking that you put them in office; they are only asking to run (for alderman),” he said.