Local candidates missed ethics filing deadline

Published 3:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2016

Six candidates in the Troy municipal election failed to file a Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) with the Alabama Ethics Commission on the day of their qualifications, a legal requirement to qualify for office.

Two of those candidates, Robert Jones and Stephanie Baker, were elected to the Troy City Council.

The other four candidates that failed to file their forms on the same day were Jimmy Clarence Scott, Matthew Jordan, Edward Olanda Hardy and Wanda Moultry.

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Troy City Clerk Alton Starling said that the candidates were not removed from the ballot because the untimely filing was a technicality.

“My interpretation is that they filed the report, they just didn’t file it timely, and the purpose of the ethics report is that we know about people’s finances,” Starling said. “In my opinion, it’s egregious to not file a form as required by law. Untimely filing is a different matter to me. I’d let the court decide whether they should be on the ballot. As election manager, I’d never remove their name from the ballot for a technicality.”

All of the candidates other than Jordan filed an SEI within five days of qualification, which could have been allowed by law if the ethics commission had approved extensions. But Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said that no candidates from Troy requested an extension.

A letter from Starling to the ethics commission inquiring about whether the list of candidates filed SEIs shows notes on July 11 from Barbi Lee, chief of the financial and administrative division of the Alabama Ethics Commission, indicating that the candidates had not filed the SEIs simultaneous to qualifying.

What impact the failure to file has on the election is undetermined.

Secretary of State John Merrill said that it is up to the ethics commission to enforce the law, but Lee said that the commission has no authority over who goes on the ballot.

“The Alabama Ethics Commission does not have the authority to dictate whether a candidate should or should not be placed on a ballot, that decision must be made by the Election Official,” Lee said. Lee did, however, share the law that states the requirement, highlighting the section that shows candidates not meeting the requirement should not be placed on the ballot.

The law, found in in the Code of Alabama Section 36-25-15, reads as follows:

“Candidates required to file statements of economic interests; official to notify commission of name of candidate; failure to submit statement.

“(a) Candidates at every level of government shall file a completed statement of economic interests for the previous calendar year with the State Ethics Commission simultaneously with the date such candidate files his or her qualifying papers with the appropriate election official or in the case of an independent candidate, the date the person complies with the requirements of Section 17-9-3. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to require a second filing of the person’s statement of economic interests if a current statement of economic interests is on file with the commission.

“(b) Each election official who receives a declaration of candidacy or petition to appear on the ballot for election from a candidate shall, within five days of the receipt, notify the commission of the name of the candidate, as defined in this chapter, and the date on which the person became a candidate . The commission shall, within five business days of receipt of such notification, notify the election official whether the candidate has complied with the provisions of this section.

“(c) Other provisions of the law notwithstanding, if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the commission may, for good cause shown, allow the candidate an additional five days to file such statement of economic interests. If a candidate is deemed not qualified, the appropriate election official shall remove the name of the candidate from the ballot.”

Albritton said that the Fair Campaign Practices Act does not give the ethics commission the jurisdiction to challenge election results. The only potential redress, he said, would be to file an action in circuit court.

In previous elections, Starling said that the SEIs were filled out simultaneously to qualifying and he would send them to the ethics commission.

But in September 2015, a new law went into effect requiring the candidates to file the forms directly with the ethics commission.

An AL.com article by John Archibald on Tuesday scrutinized the law, revealing that the law legally disqualified at least 80 candidates across the state.

He gives the example of Adamsville, where five candidates were actually removed from the ballot because of the law and notified the day after the qualifying deadline ended. Some of those candidates argued that the city should have done more to notify them of the requirement.

District 4 Councilwoman-elect Stephanie Baker said that she was not aware of the requirement to file the form on the same day either.

“This was the first time I was made aware that there was any potential issue with my Statement of Economic Interests,” Baker said. “On Friday, July 8, 2016, I filed my qualification paperwork with City Clerk Alton Starling. At the time of filing, I had my SEI ready to give the Clerk. He then explained that I needed to file the SEI online within 5 days. I filed online on Tuesday, July 12, 2016.” 

District 1 Councilman-elect Robert Jones could not be reached for comment by publishing time.

City Attorney Richard Calhoun was unable to be reached for comment prior to publishing.