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Lake City makes emergency qualifying change

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Willie Oswalt

Willie Oswalt

LAKE CITY — Clayton County’s smallest city has made a big mistake concerning qualifying for its upcoming municipal election.

Lake City had set its qualifying period for next week because officials thought they could legally hold it in September. However, Mayor Willie Oswalt confirmed Wednesday that Elections Superintendent Eric Beckman found out this week that they were required by law to hold qualifying this week.

The city hastily rescheduled for the later half of this week. It began Wednesday and is set to end today at 4:30 p.m.

“Our elections superintendent, some way or another, got the wrong information and told us that it was legal to hold qualifying in September, but now they’re telling him it isn’t,” said Oswalt.

If residents are confused, they aren’t alone. Oswalt is also scratching his head over how the city got the wrong information about when qualifying could be held and is still trying to find out all of the details about what happened. He’s not even sure who alerted Beckman to the issue, although he said he believed it was someone in the city government.

Lake City was the only city in the county that had not previously scheduled qualifying to take place this week. Council members J.B. Sowell and Yvonne Kelly are up for re-election this year. Oswalt said Sowell was the only candidate who had qualified as of Thursday morning.

Oswalt acknowledged the situation may look suspicious, but he swore the city was not trying to deceive voters with the last-minute change.

“It was just a clerical mistake,” he said.

Oswalt said Beckman was on vacation this week, but has remained in the city and is checking up regularly to see how qualifying is going. He also said he gave Beckman a cell phone number to call a Clayton News Daily reporter to explain the situation. No call had been received by press deadline.

The city is trying to fix the situation, though. City Attorney Steve Fincher is expected to ask Clayton County Superior Court judges to let the city extend the qualifying period until Sept. 4, so candidates who planned to qualify next week will still have an opportunity to do so.

Fincher had not had an opportunity to speak with a judge about the request as of Thursday morning, said Oswalt.

“Until he talks to a judge, and they issue an order granting us an extension, qualifying will still end Friday,” said Oswalt.

Fincher could not be reached before deadline.

Anyone wishing to qualify to run for a Lake City council seat can turn in their paperwork at city hall, 5455 Jonesboro Road. The qualifying fee is $252.