Sherrod ineligible to run

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2004

One of the four Demopolis residents campaigning for mayor apparently isn’t a Demopolis resident.

Ben Sherrod, who has run for mayor in the last three municipal elections, has been informed that his home on the Tombigbee River is not within the city limits. On Monday, he met with Demopolis City Attorney Rick Manley and learned that his property borders, but is not included in, the city limits.

Barring a successful legal challenge, Sherrod is ineligible to run for mayor in the Aug. 24 municipal election.

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“I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet,” Sherrod said Monday afternoon. “I’m about to call a lawyer and get some advice.”

Sherrod may have reason to seek legal advice, based on a number of factors.

In 2000, Sherrod ran for mayor and lived on Cromwell Avenue off Herbert Street. Sherrod took his homestead exemption with the tax assessor’s office at the Cromwell address.

Sherrod has since sold his home on Cromwell Avenue and moved to a river home on Sherrod Forest Road. Upon moving, Sherrod changed his homestead exemption to that location.

“When I moved, I went [to Tax Assessor Bo McAlpine’s office] and made sure I was in the city limits,” Sherrod said. “I was informed that I was in the city.”

McAlpine said there are two maps of the Demopolis city limits in his office. One map — the tax map — indicates Sherrod’s property is in the city limits. The other map — an official city of Demopolis map — shows Sherrod does not live within the incorporated limits.

“Before I [announced], I checked to make sure,” Sherrod said. “Since I’ve lived there, I’ve always paid city taxes.”

After The Times made a request to Manley for the actual city limits, he first met with McAlpine and Probate Judge Cindy Neilson. After reviewing the law, Manley said he, Neilson and McAlpine all agreed that Sherrod, in fact, does not live in the city limits.

“Based on their information, it looks like I don’t live inside [the limits],” Sherrod said from his home Monday. “But I’m sitting here looking out my window and the limits are about 150 feet from my house.”

Along with his home on the river, Sherrod said he has maintained a home at his apartments on Jackson Street.

“If the river gets too high, we live there because we can’t get in and out of this house,” Sherrod said. “That may be something I can look at.”

Based on state law, however, it’s too late for Sherrod to change his homestead exemption.

According to information from city hall, May 26 was the last day a person could become a resident of the city and, thus, a candidate for the Aug. 24 election.

City Clerk Vickie Taylor, who is the election official for this election, could not comment about the status of any candidate and qualifications for candidacy. Though she is the election official, a city clerk cannot keep anyone from qualifying for election.

Tuesday, July 6, marks the first day candidates can qualify for the municipal elections and, in the thick stack of papers each candidate must complete, one of the first requirements for candidacy is that a person be a registered voter in the city.

Because Sherrod’s homestead exemption is still with his river home, and because the May 26 deadline has passed, there is no way Sherrod can be eligible to run for public office unless he is successful with a legal challenge.

On Monday, Sherrod didn’t know how hard he would fight to be allowed on the ballot.

“I’m going to fight,” he said. “I’m going to see what my options are first, though.”

On June 16, Sherrod publicly announced his intention to seek election to the mayor’s office. At least three weeks earlier, he had begun to place “Sherrod for Mayor” signs around the community.

“Those signs were ones I had left over from the last election. I’m a frugal kind of person,” he said, keeping a sense of humor through it all. “But when I went down and checked to make sure I was in the city limits, I did order more signs.”

Sherrod seemed philosophical after learning the news Monday.

“Last week, when I went to Florida…, I spent seven hours driving and I had a lot of time to think,” he said. “Part of my thought process was, ‘Ben, why are you doing this?’ I’m a person who doesn’t answer to anyone, and I’ve been able to pretty much do what I want.”

Indeed, Sherrod has amassed a great deal of property throughout his years in Demopolis.

“I came to this city with the clothes on my back… I didn’t ride a watermelon wagon into town,” he said.

Whether or not Sherrod finds a way onto the August ballot is unclear. Regardless, he said his concern and dedication to the city won’t disappear.

“I have a heart for this city, and I know I would make a good mayor,” he said. “I have enough management skills and engineering training to get a lot done, and I know I could change the attitude of this city.”

With Sherrod’s apparent ineligibility to seek the mayor’s position, the field of publicly announced candidates has been reduced to three — Mike Grayson, Stephen Gutshall and Cecil Williamson. All had positive comments about Sherrod’s devotion to the city of Demopolis.

“Ben is a strong contender, and he certainly has a following around town,” Grayson said. “I think this will have an impact on the election.”

Gutshall said Sherrod always displays “a lot of interest in the city.”

“His concern for this city is there,” Gutshall said. “And the things he does are for the greater good of Demopolis.”

Williamson, who attends church with Sherrod, said she appreciates the active participation Sherrod has shown.

“He’s been involved with beautification, the economy, and has supported new business,” Williamson said. “He’s done a lot of positive things for Demopolis.”

While each candidate said Sherrod’s voting bloc would be important to capture, none indicated a change in campaign strategy.

“I’m going to continue with my same approach to this election,” Grayson said. “It’s going to be a steady, methodical approach to victory. I’m trying not to do anything out of the ordinary. I’m trying to be myself.”

Gutshall continued to put his emphasis on name recognition.

“Getting out and getting to know the voters is still the most important thing for me,” he said. “I can’t do that by myself, though. Everybody has to be on board.”

And Williamson said she’ll continue to focus on the positives.

“I have defined my strategy… running a positive, productive campaign,” she said. “And the best person is the one who will be the next mayor of Demopolis.”