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Last-minute challenge to Byars' residency denied

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The residency of Stan Byars - a candidate in Riverdale's Ward 3 council race - was challenged, but upheld for a second time on Friday, in a hearing before the city's election superintendent.

The challenge, filed by former city councilwoman Michelle Bruce, was denied by Superintendent Gloria Collins, who determined that Byars meets the legal qualifications to run for office.

Friday's hearing was held only four days before Byars is scheduled to run in the Nov. 3 municipal election. Collins' ruling was determined one hour and fifteen minutes after the hearing began. "Because of such strict time frames, we are going to issue the decision today," Collins said on Friday. "Having heard all of the evidence and arguments of the parties during this hearing ... the candidate meets the City of Riverdale's qualifications to hold municipal office, as set forth by the City of Riverdale charter."

According to Riverdale City Clerk Stephanie Thomas, Byars last voted in December of 2008 at the Pointe South Middle School precinct in Jonesboro. In an e-mail dated Sept. 30, addressed to Thomas, Bruce asked that Byars' residency be challenged in an official hearing.

Bruce's e-mail reads: "The Question I have is how can a citizen that voted in the 2008 elections in the City of Jonesboro, Ga., [be] able to be a citizen of the City of Riverdale Ga., within 10 months later ...?"

As evidence in Friday's hearing, Bruce submitted the following: An Oct. 3 Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald article informing voters that, after clearing up residency discrepancies, Byars had been added to the list of qualified candidates nearly one month after the Sept. 4 qualifying deadline; a copy of the official minutes from the Sept. 28 regular business meeting of the mayor and council, in which Stan Harris - a campaign advisor for Ward 3 Candidate Veverly Brooks - questioned Byars' residency; and a document from the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration listing Byars' last address in Jonesboro.

"Mr. Byars has never voted in the City of Riverdale," Bruce said. "I still believe there is reasonable doubt."

In his defense, Byars submitted the following documents: A copy of his current lease with Emerald Pointe Apartments in Riverdale; a copy of his car title, dated Oct. 15 2008, with a City of Riverdale address; and a Sept. 29 e-mail from Thomas, informing Byars that he met the qualifications to run for office within the city.

"There was a question about my residency before, and I was given the OK by the city to run," Byars said. "I'm over 21 years old, I paid my qualifying fee, I had my lease with me ... I did everything right. I'm just exercising my right as a citizen.

"I register people year round," to vote, said Byars, a post member of the Clayton County Democratic Party. "I've had people who have lived in Riverdale for years and had never registered to vote before this Barack Obama election. Does that mean they don't live in the City of Riverdale? The question was whether I have lived in Riverdale for a year, and I have."

Byars described the hearing as "petty" and "inconvenient."

Bruce said she did not pursue the hearing with malice, but simply to get to the bottom of things. "There were a lot of things that didn't seem right," Bruce said. "I had questions and I had to make the challenge to get the answers."

Byars will run as scheduled, against Brooks and incumbent Ward 3 Councilwoman Wanda Wallace, on Nov. 3.