Clayton County Judge Malone issues temporary restraining order after Jonesboro elections qualification date discrepancies

Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone has issued a temporary restraining order against Jonesboro Elections Superintendent Ricky Clark Jr. after potential mayoral candidate Billy Jarrett Miller alleged he was prevented from qualifying because of inconsistent city deadlines. A hearing before Superior Court Judge Aaron B. Mason is scheduled for Sept. 19.

JONESBORO — Clayton County Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone has issued a temporary restraining order against the city of Jonesboro's elections superintendent, Ricky L. Clark Jr., after a potential candidate allegedly was told a discrepancy in qualifying dates was due to a typographical error. 

The request was filed and the order issued on Friday, Aug. 30. The injunction asks that Clark re-open qualifying for the Nov. 5 city election. 

Clark told the News he does not expect the restraining order to delay the election. "We are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to be heard in court on the temporary restraining order and the claims raised in the pending lawsuit," he said. "However, we are confident that the election will go forward as the law requires."

The electoral dust-up comes after allegations that the city mishandled zonings for businesses that were annexed into the city, then denied their candidate the chance to qualify for the election.

The plaintiff, Billy Jarrett Miller, is the owner of Crane Hardware, which has been in business for 47 years. Chip Flanegan, who has owned Jonesboro Rental for 40 years, told the News he asked Miller to run after the city annexed in several properties, then changed the zoning and allegedly told the businesses they were no longer operating legally and would need to reapply for two-month temporary business licenses. 

Flanegan, who lost GOP primary bids for Congress in 2012, 2014 and 2016, says he is unhappy with the city’s zoning and licensing requirements for annexed businesses. Clark, who has said the city zoning change was procedural, added  the city's C-2 designation is a "best match" for the zoning that the businesses had in unincorporated Clayton County.

Miller is represented by attorney Vincent Russo, deputy counsel for the Georgia Republican Party, who also is representing Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the Congressional fight over alleged voting irregularities in the 2018 election. 

Russo told the News that a proceeding that had been scheduled for Wednesday morning "is being rescheduled before Judge Mason. No arguments were heard today (Sept. 4). The court is looking at rescheduling the hearing for Sept. 19 if that date works for both sides. However, a Rule Nisi has not been entered yet."

Under state election law, a municipality can designate three to five consecutive days for nonpartisan candidate qualifying, which "shall commence no earlier than 8:30 a.m. on the third Monday in August immediately preceding the general election and shall end no later than 4:30 p.m. on the following Friday; and, in the case of a special election, the municipal nonpartisan qualifying period shall commence no earlier than the date of the call and shall end no later than 25 days prior to the election."

The city's packet for candidates applying to run listed Monday, Aug. 19 through Friday, Aug. 23 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. as qualification dates. Flanegan said he picked up a packet for Miller on Tuesday, Aug. 20. However, when Miller, Flanegan and two others showed up on Friday, according to Flanegan, they were told that qualifying had closed on Wednesday.

"We said, 'Look, it's your documents, you have to honor them,'" Flanegan told the News. "They said, 'No, it was a typographical error.'"

On Jan. 14, in its first numbered resolution of the year, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution designating Monday, Aug. 26 through Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. as the qualifying dates. A mandatory legal advertisement that ran in the News on Feb. 6 gave this information.

The qualifying packet that the city handed out to prospective candidates listed Monday, Aug. 19 through Friday, Aug. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

A mandatory legal advertisement that ran in the News on July 24 gave the qualifying dates as Monday, Aug. 19 through Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

When Flanegan inquired as to write-in qualifying dates, he said Assistant City Clerk Pat Daniel told him, "'Well, that expired, too.' She refused to take our documents." Miller's petition to the court also says Daniel told Miller qualifying had ended Aug. 21. 

According to the city's July 28 notice, "The last day to file and publish a notice of intention to be a write-in candidate in the Municipal General Election is Friday, Sept. 13, 2019."

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