The city charter says Aldermen "shall be bona fide residents of the respective wards". So what's a "bona fide resident"? It doesn't say. But it does say this:
"All inhabitants of said City of Natchez eighteen or more years of age and citizens of the United States and of this state, not disqualified by the Constitution of the United States or of this state, who shall have resided in the city thirty consecutive days prior to any election in said city, and shall have been registered as legal voters thereof shall be qualified voters at such election, and eligible to any office thereof"
But there is no definition of "reside". Nor could I find any definitions of residency in the state code. The generally accepted legal definition is:
"RESIDENT - A person coming into a place with intention to establish his domicil or permanent residence, and who in consequence actually remains there. "
All this sounds pretty fuzzy to me. And of course, questionable residency is not a new thing in Natchez - for example, Mayors West and Brown.
So who gets to decide this question? This is an issue in the Democratic Primary Election, and the local Democratic Party gets to decide who is a qualified Democratic candidate. Therefore, the Aldermen filed their challenges in a timely fashion with the County Democratic Committee. However, they said that's not our responsibility - that belongs to the Municipal Democratic Committee. The what? I never knew there even was one. It turns out to have only one member, who then scrambled around trying to appoint some more members to hear this case. She could only find two other brave souls, because no one wanted to get in the middle of this political firestorm.
However, there was a hearing tonight, after being postponed twice. Alderwoman Arceneaux presented lots of evidence that Paul Johnson lived in Ward 2. Paul Johnson said it was all true, except he moved and changed his voter registration more than 30 days before the election, as allowed by the City Charter.
Sounds pretty clear to me. Paul Johnson is registered to vote in Ward 1, and therefore he can run for Alderman in Ward l. One of the Committee members asked Paul if he moved just to run for office. You know what? That's none of his business. He can move for any reason he wants, so long as it's within the 30 days. End of discussion. That's my humble opinion.
Alderman Gray just said his opponent didn't live in Ward 2, but he presented no evidence, because he said it was up to the Committee to investigate. (Lots of luck, Ricky!) However, he was fortunate because Larry Hooper didn't show up for the hearing to present his case.
However, there's another issue at work here. One thing the law is clear on. Absentee ballots must be ready 45 days before an election. That's already passed, and the ballots are printed and ready. There was a lot of hollering about that, but it looks clear to me.
If the law is followed, both opponents should be allowed to stay on the ballot. But we'll see.