After several months of discussion and an attempt by a local resident to circulate a petition, the Ludowici City Council decided at its April 16 meeting that a liquor-sale option will not be added to the June 18 special election ballot.
Sean Tucker, owner of The Brown Bagger liquor store, went before the council, again claiming the group broke the law in how it handled his request to put the option on the ballot. Tucker said the council violated his 14th Amendment right, which prohibits the government from depriving a citizen of the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and property. Tucker said that he submitted a petition of signatures to the council and his request was not validated within 30 days, which he claimed is required by law. Tucker also said he contacted the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the matter and reportedly had been told that his 14th Amendment right had been violated.
Mayor James Fuller and council member Mary Hamilton told Tucker that according to Long County Board of Elections Chairwoman Vanessa Cunningham, the petition was not valid because it did not contain the required number of signatures, which is 35 percent of the city’s registered voters. During the discussion, Fuller and Tucker exchanged heated words, and Fuller eventually told Tucker that his time had expired. However, Tucker continued to express his displeasure at the situation.
Fuller told a police officer to remove Tucker from the meeting, but Tucker agreed to be silent and was allowed to remain. Fuller requested that Cunningham come to the front and reply to Tucker’s allegations. Cunningham said that the council did not violate any law and reiterated her point that Tucker’s petition did not contain the required number of signatures.
Tucker asked Cunningham about the delay in certifying his petition. She told him that every signature on the petition had to be verified, which takes a lot of time.
Local resident Shantelle Manville asked the council what needed to happen in order for the measure to be placed on a special referendum. She was told that the state requires at least 35 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign a request, and the signatures must be verified before the measure can be placed on a ballot.
Janis Goode also went before the council regarding Jim Fuller’s resignation from his post as Ludowici’s judge pro tem. Goode said that even though Fuller resigned, she felt that the citizens of the county should know that he never should have been appointed to the position by the council. She said she had been pointing out to the council for three years that he was not qualified. City Attorney Joe Kitchings told Goode that, historically, a member of the council had served as judge pro tem and, as a result, there was nothing wrong with Fuller’s appointment. Kitchings also said that it was a moot point since Fuller already resigned.
Goode also told the council that Cunningham had represented the city as the superintendent of elections when she petitioned the court for a new election, but at that time, she had not actually been appointed to the position. Kitchings said she was acting in the superintendent’s capacity, and the order he wrote up regarding the election had been approved by Superior Court Judge D. Jay Stewart, making this a moot point as well.
Goode said that she brought these matters to the council in an attempt to make council members more aware of their actions in the future.
In other business, the council:
• by a 2-1 vote approved hiring Cunningham to oversee the June 18 special election for a fee of approximately $19,000. Gwen Davis and Hamilton voted yes. Mark Chesser said he voted no because Cunningham did not specify what she would charge.
• by a 2-1 vote approved hiring attorney Bob Pirkle as the judge pro tem for the city.
• unanimously approved having one voting precinct at city hall for the upcoming election.
• unanimously approved keeping Long County Library funding at $500, forgoing a request to increase funding to $1,000.
• unanimously approved setting the qualifying fee for the two vacant city council seats at $72 per candidate.
• Heard a presentation from Air Evac Lifeteam spokesman Al Groover on the advantages of having citizens join the program.
• Heard a complaint from Sylvia Davis regarding Tucker’s dog. She said the dog had been loose and coming in her yard. Tucker said he would address the problem.