The city of Temple will attempt to have a former mayoral candidate pay the legal costs it was charged for challenging his candidacy.
Gerald Powell, a self-employed businessman, had sought the mayor’s post during last year’s city elections, but the county elections board disqualified him after his qualifications for the post were challenged over a 1992 conviction.
On Jan. 25, the council voted to authorize the city’s legal team to pursue a reimbursement from Powell for the legal costs of the election challenge.
But the vote, which came at the end of a special called meeting of the council, was not unanimous.
Ward 2 Councilman Howard Walden voted in favor of seeking the reimbursement, along with Ward 4 Councilman Tom Wallace and Ward 1 Councilwoman Terron Bivens. Ward 5 Councilman Richard Bracknell, who was opposed in his post by Powell two years ago, abstained from the vote and Ward 3 Councilman Todd Rothwell was opposed to the reimbursement.
“I want the public to be clear and the record to note that (we) just asked that the city pursue attorney’s fees against a man that tried to step forward and help this community,” said Rothwell, adding that Powell did not know that his prior conviction had made him ineligible to run for office.
“So, just know, (a) man stepped forward, tried to help out and they are seeking to go after him for attorney’s fees,” Rothwell added.
According to City Administrator William Osborne, attorneys for the Carroll County Board of Elections and Registration have billed the city some $9,000 for their work during the election challenge. The city’s own legal firm has billed the city $2,500 for their work.
The challenge over Powell’s candidacy was the second one made during the 2017 city election. Another candidate, Avanti Helton, who had sought a city council seat, was also challenged over a prior conviction. He withdrew from the race before the matter was taken to the elections board.
Powell and Helton were the only African-American candidates to participate in the city elections.
The council voted last October to authorize the county to step into Powell’s case, after some council members were wary of getting involved in electoral matters. A 1999 intergovernmental agreement specifies that cities in the county must conduct their own qualifications of candidates, unless the city specifically requests county involvement.
The three-member elections board ruled on Oct. 25 that a 1992 conviction for felony sale of marijuana, along with no evidence that Powell has received a restoration of his civil rights from the state, made him ineligible to hold public office.
Although persons convicted of felonies have their right to vote automatically restored at the end of their sentence, they must petition the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to be able to seek public office.
During the hearing, Powell’s attorney showed that a felony case against Powell had later been reduced to a misdemeanor.