A legal notice about candidate filing for the April 6 municipal election was not published in The Salem News 16 weeks prior to the election.
The city clerk is required on or before the 16th Tuesday prior to an election to notify the public of the filing opening and closing dates, according to Section 105.050 of the City of Salem codes. Legal notices normally appear in The Salem News, and the city has used that method of notice for decades.
That means a legal notice would have normally first appeared in the Dec. 15 edition of The Salem News. Candidate filing opened Dec. 15 and closes Jan. 19, 2021.
The ordinance reads in full, “The City Clerk shall, on or before the sixteenth (16th) Tuesday prior to any election at which the City offices are to be filled by said election, notify the general public of the opening filing date, the office or offices to be filled, the proper place for filing, and the closing filing date of the election. Such notification may be accomplished by legal notice published in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the City.”
Dent County Clerk Angie Curley, when contacted by The Salem News last week, said she did not remember any entities in the county that did not publish a filing notice in the newspaper. She said it is the responsibility of local entities to publish the notices.
Last week during a routine search of legal notices that appeared in The Salem News, newspaper staff discovered that a legal notice from the city had not appeared in the newspaper. The Salem News checks the legal notices to see which entities reporters need to contact for a list of candidates and ballot issues.
After discovering that no legal notice for the municipal election had appeared in the newspaper, The Salem News contacted city clerk Mary Happel Dec. 22. She first told The Salem News that she had prepared the notice and sent it, but email archives of The Salem News from Happel did not contain a request for the notice or the notice. Happel later said the work on the notice was done during a busy time when the city was moving due to remodeling at the city administration building, and she might not have sent it.
Happel sent the legal notice the afternoon of Dec. 22, and it is schedule to be published in The Salem News for the first time beginning today (Tuesday).
Happel in an email to The Salem News Monday said the notice was posted on the city council chamber door along with the resolution that called for the election. That information was included in the agenda packet for the Nov. 16 aldermen meeting, and in addition, it is posted on the city administration building bulletin board in the foyer, she said.
Curley, the county’s election authority who oversees local elections, said her responsibility begins with certification of each election, which has to be done by Jan. 26.
“The city needs to go to the election calendar on the secretary of state’s website, get the notice out as soon as possible and also talk to their attorney,” Curley says of the situation with the late public notice of filing.
City attorney James Weber when contacted Monday had no comment at this time regarding the public notice.
Publishing the notice in today’s (Dec. 29) issue is two weeks later than the deadline. If the late notice for candidate filing causes the election to be delayed, Curley said the city would have to bear the entire cost of its election. She said an April municipal election normally costs anywhere from $10,000-$15,000, but if the city is the only entity in the election that number would be less. Those entities that take part in the April 6 election would pay a higher cost without the city in the election to help split costs, Curley said.
The Salem News requested from Happel a list of filings for aldermen. As of Monday, there are two filings for East Ward alderman, Shawn Bolerjack and Jerry (Jay) Gibbs. Both filed Dec. 15, the first day candidates could file, according to Happel. Rachel Hinderliter is the incumbent in the East Ward, but will not refile due to relocation outside city limits.
No one had filed as of Monday for a West Ward alderman spot held by Kevin James. James told The Salem News Sunday he does plan to file. Filing ends Jan. 19, according to the ordinance.
Bolerjack when contacted by The Salem News said he was contacted prior to the opening date of filing by a city official about running, thought about it a couple weeks then filed the first day. Gibbs could not be immediately reached for comment.