VALERIE TATUM

Valerie Tatum apparently will be disqualified from the race for Ward 2 Little Rock City Board because her residence is in a different ward. UPDATE: Or maybe not. For now, a legal challenge to her candidacy won’t be filed.

The discrepancy apparently was discovered by one of the other candidates. City Attorney Tom Carpenter has notified city officials and will inform the Pulaski County Election Commission.

Tatum’s name still will appear on the ballot, which has already been printed. But Carpenter will go to court this week to seek an order that any votes for her not be counted.

Her removal from the race will leave incumbent Ken Richardson in the race along with challengers Rohn Muse and Shalonda Riley.

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Tatum listed her address as 3401 Fair Park Boulevard. At that point, Fair Park is the dividing line between Wards 1 and 2 and her address is on the east side of the line, in Ward One. The address was in Ward 2 until a district realignment following the 2010 Census.

Tatum, a former charter school administrator, had reported raising $1,300 for the race, of which $750 came from Claiborne Deming of El Dorado, a former Murphy Oil CEO who is a proponent of charter schools.

I was unable to reach her for comment.

The law requires residency in a ward to be a candidate, so at the time she filed, she was ineligible, Carpenter said.

UPDATE: I still haven’t reached Tatum, but Carpenter says she disputes the city interpretation. Here’s the letter he sent to her.

UPDATE II: Tatum will fight the determination. Here’s an angry letter from her lawyer. He happens to be Jess Askew, who does a lot of work for Walton-financed school choice/charter school efforts.

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City Attorney Carpenter has responded and included a reference to reports of Tatum’s claim of a homestead property tax exemption in another city,

Dear Jess,

Thank you for the letter that I received via email today and which is being sent by first class mail to this office. I appreciate that you have authority to accept service for Dr. Tatum. This office does not have such authority in the event of any counterclaim. However, I will seek to obtain such authority.

Incidentally, in light of the litigation mode that seems apparent now, I have not copied Dr. Tatum on this email and hope that you do so if you feel it to be appropriate. In the alternative, if you would like to grant me authority to copy her on emails in the apparent litigation, I will happily do so understanding, of course, that no email will be sent to her that is not also sent to you. To that end, I would appreciate a reciprocal assurance from you. While there are intriguing (and perhaps not completely resolved) issues about the litigant/governing body member, I think this is a reasonable accommodation as to email or mail communications for now. I will say that once the litigation is formally filed, I would object to meetings with any members of the Board of Directors, or other City defendants, unless I, or someone from my office, is present.

A more complete response is appropriate. But, because of the time of the pending election I think a few comments here will suffice for now.

First, the City is not erroneous. Your client sought candidacy and
listed a specific address that is not within the boundaries of Ward 2. The fact that she has since moved into Ward 2 is of no consequence since she could not be a candidate as she applied. Your reliance on cases or statutes that deal with first class cities in general is negated by the fact that Ark. Code Ann. § 14-61-109 starts “[n]otwithstanding the provisions of any other act,” which means it is the exclusive statute for the City of Little Rock’s form of government.

Second, it is the candidate’s responsibility to assure that an address is within the proper ward boundary. The statutes vest sole
jurisdiction to determine ward boundaries in the Pulaski County Election Commission. Hence, failure to verify an address with that commission is not the fault of the City, but the error of the candidate. Even so, the fact that in the last few days Dr. Tatum has moved into the district does not negate the fact she was not a qualified candidate for the Board of Directors when the time to exert such candidacy ended in August.

Third, the cases are replete that reasonable requirements for
electoral candidacy do not constitute civil rights violations. I have found no case to date (but will be looking) that a requirement that a candidate for a district office in a local election actually reside within the district is federal constitutional discrimination.

Finally, the City has no objection to Dr. Tatum saying she is a
candidate for Ward 2. The City’s objection is that she is not statutorily qualified as a candidate for Ward 2/ Therefore, any votes that are received (because the ballots are already printed) should not be counted. Hence, the Citizens Participation in Government Act you cite – which seems to be a ban on SLAPP suits – does not apply.

Since the matter will proceed forward, I will flesh out these points
in the complaint. This is an expedited issue that does not leave a lot of time for discovery. However, I would like to know what address Dr. Tatum has claimed for the homestead property tax exemption through August 31, 2018. If that can be provided, it would be appreciated.

Tom

UPDATE: Everything changed Thursday afternoon. Carpenter said he’d heard from members of the City Board, he wouldn’t identify them, who objected to the city filing a legal action to disqualify her, at least at this time. This appears to be a response to Askew’s pressure.

Carpenter said he can’t act on his own with any objection from the board. He said he couldn’t say where the Board as a whole stands. Freedom of Information Act prevents a polling of the board on the issue. The Board will have to decide whether to proceed or not with an action that her votes not be counted. So, for now, she’s on the ballot.

Carpenter said he hadn’t changed his opinion that she wasn’t qualified to run and that it was too late to move to qualify.

The City Board should do what’s right: Go to court and get a legal determination on a problem found by the city clerk and the city attorney. And ask her about that homestead in Maumelle.

By the way, incumbent Ken Richardson said he didn’t raise the question about Tatum’s residency and said his campaigning won’t be affected whether she’s in or out of the race.

UPDATE: Mayor Stodola said a member of the board has  asked for a special meeting to consider legal action. That requires majority support. Will Board members move against an unqualified candidate or try to ignore it?