HATTIESBURG — Gov. Phil Bryant has set a Sept. 24 special election for a do-over in the Hattiesburg mayoral race.
Bryant’s order today came days after Judge William Coleman ordered a new election because of questions about the way the June 4 election was conducted.
Former city council member Dave Ware, who ran for mayor as an independent, brought a court challenge after narrowly losing to Democrat Johnny DuPree, who has been mayor since 2001.
Ware contested the election results after DuPree was certified the winner with a 37-vote lead. Ware contends that absentee ballots had problems ranging from allegedly improper signatures to ballots that didn’t state for which election the vote was cast.
Bryant said all mayoral candidates who ran June 4 will be on the ballot Sept. 24, unless they withdraw from the race. Shawn O’Hara, Nathan Jordan and Clyde Stewart also were on the June mayoral ballot as independents.
Voters must be registered by Aug. 26 to cast ballots in the new election.
The Hattiesburg City Council, meanwhile, met in closed session yesterday evening to discuss city attorney City Attorney Charles Lawrence’s ordering Hattiesburg police to conduct a criminal background check of a man who had been scheduled to testify in the trial challenging the election results..
Council President Kim Bradley told the Hattiesburg American that the executive session involved questions directed at Lawrence over why he ordered a National Crime Information Center check of Ware supporter Arthur Smith. Bradley said he was constrained by the laws of executive session to comment further about the matter, but said: “No action was taken.”
Lawrence told the Hattiesburg American in Sunday’s edition that he ordered the background check because he believed Smith, whose absentee vote was lost, would perjure himself on the stand.
Smith filled out his absentee ballot for Dave Ware. However, a search of the ballots did not find an Arthur Smith vote. WDAM-TV reported that during the City Council’s closed session, it was revealed in a court transcript that the Hattiesburg Police Department, on orders from Lawrence, did a background check on Smith. Smith was called to testify as a witness in the Ware v. DuPree trial, but he never showed up when subpoenaed July 26.
Forrest County District Attorney Patricia Burchell released a statement yesterday saying she is aware of citizens’ concerns stemming from the mayoral election and trial.
“I have received numerous inquiries from members of our community as to what actions this office will take to investigate criminal activity. I want to assure the citizens of Hattiesburg that your concerns are not being ignored,” Burchell said.
She said it would be “improper” to comment on any specific allegations or investigations during the ongoing electoral process.
“The office is committed to ensuring that all allegations of any type of criminal conduct within our community are investigated and properly handled,” she said.