Residency challenge filed against Augusta mayor

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September 13, 2006

First it was Commissioner Keith Brown, then mayoral candidate Ronnie it's Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver whose residency is being challenged.

The Board of Elections received a written note today challenging Copenhaver's eligibility to run in the November election.

And the mayor is not happy about it...because of the cost.

It will cost up to $5000 for this challenge to be heard, and the mayor wants the woman who wrote it to pay...not taxpayers.

Copenhaver insists he has lived in Augusta's Connifer subdivision for seven years.

"More people than I care to know, know where I live," he told News 12.

The challenge was issued by a Hephzibah woman named Diane Moss.

She claims Copenhaver held a previous residence in Aiken County's North Augusta in 2005, which would have made him ineligible for the mayoral seat last year as well as this year.

"If it weren't such a serious miscarriage of the election process, it would be laughable," Copenhaver said.

The mayor says he has never lived in Aiken County. He says he grew up in Columbia County and bought his current home in 1999.

He showed us his Georgia license as well as his voter registration card.

"If you're going to challenge somebody, make sure you've got the facts behind you," Dr. Lowell Greenbaum, chairman of the Augusta Democratic Party, told News 12.

Dr. Greenbaum warns these challenges cost taxpayers money: "The city has to provide legal service to the Board of Elections which costs quite a bit of money."

"I fully intend to pursue every means necessary," said Copenhaver, "creating a situation where the person who has brought this challenge with no valid evidence comes forth, they should be the ones to have to pay the fees on this--which I understand is in the range of $5,000."

$5000 for one handwritten paragraph...a sum Augusta's mayor refuses to turn his back on.

We spoke with Diane Moss at her Hephzibah home.

Off camera, she says it is her right to question any candidate's eligibility and that it's not fair for the mayor to force her to pay legal fees.

Ms. Moss could not tell us the address in North Augusta at which she thinks Deke Copenhaver has lived. Her complaint simply states North Augusta.

This is the third residency challenge the Board of Elections has gotten so far for this upcoming election.

The first was by Alvin Mason. Mason claimed Keith Brown had not lived in Augusta long enough to serve as the Richmond County commissioner for District 4.

Mason's challenge was successful. The Board of Elections found Brown could not run for the seat this November.

The second challenge is currently ongoing. Political watchdog "Woody" Merry and Melanie Roy both filed residency challenges against Ronnie Few. They say a homestead exemption form Few signed in Columbia County proves he has not lived in Augusta long enough to run for mayor.

A formal hearing is set for next Thursday, September 21. At that hearing, the board will decide if Few is qualified to run for Augusta mayor.

And just today, Moss filed her residency challenge against Deke Copenhaver. The Board of Elections will hold a meeting at which Moss can present her evidence, and then the board will decide if they will hold a formal hearing.