Un-break my heart ... Undo this hurt you caused.
— Toni Braxton
Cheryl Calhoun did everything right.
When she went to the Dougherty County Elections office to qualify for a seat on the Albany City Commission, she told officials in the office her plans to run against incumbent Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard. It was a long shot, she knew, but Calhoun is a determined young lady.
Then things went bad.
Elections officials, using information that was either wrong or hadn’t yet been updated in the city’s Geographic Information Mapping System, told Calhoun she was a resident of Ward II. If she wanted to run for office, she was told, she’d have to challenge for the seat left vacant by mayoral candidate Dorothy Hubbard.
“I asked them, ‘Are you sure? My husband insists we’re in Ward I, and I don’t want to write this check (for qualifying fees) until you’re sure,’ ” Calhoun told members of the Dougherty County Elections Board during a called meeting Wednesday. “They assured me I was in Ward II.”
So Calhoun wrote a $450 check, signed the requisite paperwork and became an official candidate in Ward II. She started campaigning — knocking on doors, shaking hands, collecting contributions, having yard signs printed. She said she was excited about the direction of her campaign as the Nov. 8 election drew ever nearer.
Then, out of nowhere, the bombshell.
One of the other candidates in the Ward II race — reportedly Melissa Strother — questioned Calhoun’s eligibility. An investigation was launched. The board met and delivered the news: Not only was Calhoun ineligible to run in the Ward II race, but state law prohibits elections officials from returning her qualifying fee.
Stunned, Calhoun walked out of the meeting with her husband, into the lobby area of the downtown Government Center. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she looked skyward and prayed, “Please give me strength. Please give me strength.”
It would be easy enough to point fingers here. Elections officials made an error. Doesn’t matter if the error was mechanical or human, the mistake is one that devastated someone who didn’t deserve it. The snipers have already started sniping — in their usual flowery language — taking shots at the elections office and at Calhoun, although I still can’t figure how anyone would think about throwing blame her way.
The question is, though, what can be done to rectify this situation?
I know Ginger Nickerson and the folks in the Dougherty Elections Office. They’re good people, and I’d be willing to bet all $78 in my portfolio that they feel as badly about the error as Calhoun. And I’d be willing to borrow another $78 and bet that they will take every precaution at their disposal to see that something like this never happens again.
I’m also sure that when the Albany City Commission and/or the Dougherty County Commission discusses this matter — and you can bet they will — they will do everything in their power to make things as right as possible. City Attorney Nathan Davis, who delivered the bad news that state law does not allow for the return of fees once the qualifying period has ended, even promoted refunding Calhoun’s fees after Wednesday’s Elections Board meeting.
“I think (the state) statute is aimed at situations where the candidate is in error,” Davis said. “In this case, it clearly wasn’t the fault of the candidate but of the local government that resulted in the disqualification.”
County Attorney Spencer Lee hinted that the county might work to see that Calhoun’s fees were returned to her, saying, “The city must make this determination as the law applies in this case, but any other efforts to recover funds would fall on the county since the Elections Office is a county agency.”
By all means, the city/county should return Cheryl Calhoun’s qualifying fees. And they should include with the refund as big an apology as is humanly possible. But returning that $450 is not going to make up for the time and money Calhoun spent on the campaign trail. She deserves compensation in that respect, as well.
Of course, you could give Calhoun the keys to the city treasury and it still wouldn’t undo the damage done. There’s not enough money in the budget to fix a broken heart.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.