Sherrod won’t get opinion from AG

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 27, 2004

DEMOPOLIS – The city won’t pursue obtaining an attorney general’s opinion requested by one mayoral candidate.

Ben Sherrod, who filed qualification papers to run for mayor in a field of seven candidates here, on Monday submitted a letter to Mayor Austin Caldwell requesting he seek the opinion, or a court order declaring whether or not he was qualified to run for the office.

Caldwell, who is vacation this week, said he instructed City Clerk Vickie Taylor to submit the question to the Alabama League of Municipalities’ legal department.

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“As the League pointed out, it is a question of fact not interpretation of the law,” Caldwell said.

In a letter of response Monday, Lorelei A. Lein, an attorney for the League that routinely advises cities about matters which may or may not require an official opinion, said the Attorney General’s Office has “no authority to resolve factual questions. Factual questions are to be resolved in a court of law by either a judge or a jury.”

“Whether a councilmember is a resident of the municipality is a factual question based upon where the councilmember evidences an intention to reside and where he actually resides,” she said.

Citing newspapers stories and “rumors,” Sherrod said in his letter “there is much confusion over my address of 1204 West Jackson St.”

Sherrod contends he maintains an apartment at that address, which is inside the city limits.

Controversy over his candidacy erupted when The Times discovered his residence at Sherrod Forest

Road, near the Tombigbee River, was just outside the city limits. A portion of his property there is inside the city.

Sherrod said that his intention in the request was to provide fairness to the voters.

“What prompted the request was what I was hearing from people. When they decided my property was not in the city limits, it created an awful lot of confusion … and the concern (of the voters) is they would have wasted a vote if my apartment is not my legal residence,” he said.

“I feel like I owe it to the people of Demopolis to answer this question and get it out of the way. Then, we can look at the real qualifications people have for being mayor and not something silly like what block they live on,” Sherrod said.

Caldwell said that any citizen of the city could challenge a candidacy in court, but did not say whether the city would pursue such a suit.

Rick Manley, the city’s attorney, said such a lawsuit could be filed by a citizen before or after the election.

That would suit Sherrod.

“I’m convinced (the apartment) is legitimate. I wouldn’t have spent several thousand dollars on this campaign if I didn’t feel that way, but I’m honestly trying to answer this for other people, not for me, in fairness to them,” he said.

Sherrod has run for mayor three other times, the first in 1992 against Caldwell. His second race in 1996 was a four-way race against Caldwell, who garnered 1,474 votes, Freddie Armstead, who took 815 votes, Richard Ianelli who captured 526 votes and Sherrod, who garnered 194 votes.

In the 2000 race, Sherrod came in third in the race with Caldwell who captured 2,012 votes, Diane Pfaffman, who took 601 votes and Sherrod who took 505 votes, according to city council minutes.