Dougherty County School Board write-in candidate Lorenzo Heard is suggesting that the school system look at its successful schools and use them as a model for the rest of the schools in the system. (Sept. 16, 2012)
ALBANY, Ga. -- Lorenzo Heard’s effort to get on November’s General Election ballot to run against Lane Price finally got under way Monday in Dougherty Superior Court with Judge J. Robert Porter III hearing testimony in what is expected to be a two-day hearing.
“The voters should be the ones who decide elections, not elected officials,” Heard’s attorney, Maurice King, said during opening statements.
Heard, the pastor at 2nd Greater Mt. Olive Baptist Church, launched his bid to get on the ballot as an independent candidate in the Dougherty County School System’s School Board at-large race shortly after Price defeated incumbent Anita Williams-Brown in the July 31 Democratic Primary.
His candidacy, however was derailed by the Dougherty Elections Board, which denied him a spot on the ballot citing irregularities in his Notification of Candidacy, lack of paying a qualifying fee and insufficient numbers in his candidacy petition signatures.
“The qualifying fee is a red herring,” King said. “To accept the fee, they would have had to accept the document Pastor Heard attempted to present on Aug. 3 (the deadline to qualify as an independent.)
“Our position is they should have accepted the document and fee, but the elections board decided wrongly that he was not a qualified candidate. Pastor Heard’s name should be on the ballot.”
Elections Board Attorney Ed Collier fired back.
“Every decision the board made applied to applicable law,” Collier said. “He (Heard) never filed as a candidate because his agent (Clinton Johnson) took the document back and then destroyed it.
“All we are asking the court to do is uphold state law, and that is what we are charged to do.”
Four witnesses were called to the stand Monday, including Elections office employee Sharon Armbrust, who testified that Johnson entered the Elections office with Heard’s Notice of Candidacy just prior to the noon deadline on Aug. 3.
She said she time-stamped the document and asked Johnson if it was an original. Armbrust said at that point Johnson took the document, folded it up, placed in in his pocket and left the office.
That time-stamped document was later shredded.
When board chair Alan Pendleton was on the stand, King asked him, “Should the clerk (Armbrust) have accepted the document?”
“You can’t accept what is taken back,” Pendleton replied. “The clerk probably should have kept the document, filed it and then the board would have made a determination later.”
Dougherty Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson acknowledged that Armbrust had made a mistake in time-stamping the document and then letting Johnson take it back.
“The paperwork was never rejected,” Nickerson testified. “Clinton Johnson took the Notice of Candidacy back from Sharon.”
Heard later qualified in August to run as a write-in candidate against Price.
His attorneys, King and Henry Williams, pointed out the varying numbers they have gotten from the Elections office in regard to the number of qualified petition signatures needed to get Heard on the ballot, even if the judge agrees that the nominating procedure was flawed.
During a three-day petition-signing flurry, Heard’s representatives turned in 3,258 signatures just before a noon deadline Aug. 6.
The Elections office originally said 2,911 verified signatures were needed, then backed down to 2,632 after deciding that 5 percent of the county’s 52,644 registered voters in Nov. of 2008 was the determining number.
Nickerson’s office vetted 2,772 signatures, but verified only 1,897, leaving Heard well short of the qualifying number.
At that point, Williams made a motion for an injunction in regard to November’s at-large race.
“This (Elections) office has displayed a pattern and a perpetuation of a comedy of errors,” William said in making his motion, which was quickly denied by Porter.
The hearing is expected to conclude today with Johnson expected to take the stand sometime this morning.