The Liberty County Board of Elections determined Thursday that candidate Douglas Burgess is not qualified to run for the District 4 Hinesville City Council seat.
Burgess had opposed incumbent Keith Jenkins, who is running for re-election. The former candidate has 10 days to appeal the board’s decision to the Liberty County Superior Court.
The board held a hearing at the Voter Registration office late Thursday afternoon to weigh evidence brought by four voters, who questioned Burgess’ Hinesville residency.
The board concluded that evidence brought by voters Shannon and Jennille Helton showed that Burgess did not live in the city for the required 12 months before Nov. 8, the date of the municipal election.
The board’s memorandum of the hearing states, “…the candidate served on the Allenhurst City Council until at least March 2011, and that the holding of such public office as of said date is fundamentally inconsistent with the candidate’s claim that he is qualified to seek and hold the office of councilman for the city of Hinesville, 4th District.”
Liberty County Board of Elections Chairman Richard Braun Sr. introduced evidence brought by Shannon Helton. The Heltons, Maria Fragosa and Elizabeth Brinson filed written complaints with the board on Sept. 16, according to Braun.
Braun and board members Stephen Mullice, Samuel B. Harris, Stephanie Woods and Melinda Schneider reviewed the evidence and questioned Burgess and Helton.
Election Superintendant Ella Golden, Liberty County Attorney Kelly Davis, Hinesville City Clerk Sarah Lumpkin and Hinesville City Attorney Linnie Darden also were present at the hearing.
Jenkins attended the hearing, as did former Allenhurst council candidate Wilma Gaskins, who ran against Burgess four years ago. Burgess told the board he actually resigned from the Allenhurst City Council in March and that Allenhurst Mayor Thomas Hines “sat on the (resignation) letter” for 30 days. Burgess’ qualifications also were challenged when he ran for Allenhurst City Council, Golden confirmed.
The evidence brought against Burgess included copies of the Hinesville City Charter, Burgess’ resignation letter, a Coastal Courier story dated April 13, a letter from Allenhurst City Attorney Bob Pirkle to Probate Judge Nancy Aspinwall about Burgess’ resignation from the Allenhurst City Council, minutes from the Allenhurst City Council’s April meeting and a certified copy of the check register showing Burgess was paid by the city for the April meeting. Burgess told the board the last Allenhurst council meeting he attended was in January.
Woods told Burgess the minutes for the Allenhurst council indicated he was present at the April meeting. Burgess argued the minutes were not properly dated or sealed.
Mullice asked Burgess why he was paid for the April council meeting if he had resigned in March. Burgess responded that the check register was “illegally obtained,” saying it was personal information and should not have been given to Helton.
“If this man that doesn’t know me can get all of this information, he must know somebody,” Burgess said, adding there could have been some “arm twisting” by “the incumbent.”
Schneider said that in her opinion, the pay received by city and county employees is a public record.
Board members also repeatedly asked Burgess when he had moved to a Hinesville address. He finally answered he had moved Nov. 9, 2009.
However, a Hinesville water bill showed the water reportedly was turned on at Burgess’ Hinesville address Dec. 23, 2009, according to Lumpkin. The water bill was signed by Loretta Burgess, Lumpkin said. Woods said Douglas Burgess’ name did not appear on the bill. Douglas Burgess said he is Loretta Burgess’ spouse and was not living separately from his wife.
There also was some discussion of Burgess’ Allenhurst address.
“You realized you had to be a resident of Allenhurst to be on the council,” Braun said.
Burgess said he moved to an Allenhurst address in early 2006 when he established a church there. After the hearing had ended, Gaskin said Burgess had lived in an apartment attached to the church before construction on the building even had been completed.