Unusual number of residency challenges costing taxpayers

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September 14, 2006

Richmond County Board of Elections director Lynn Bailey says three challenges filed in one year is very unusual.

News 12's Domonique Benn investigates how these challenges are costing and who's paying for them.

The latest challenge came yesterday when a woman by the name of Diane Moss filed a residency challenge against mayor Deke Copenhaver.

This comes on the heels of another mayoral candidate, Ronnie Few, being challenged about where he calls home.

And with the three challenges filed this year, the Board of Elections has had to search for money to process these challenges.

"It isn't something that happens very commonly," Bailey told News 12.

She says the costs of challenges are adding up and she has had to request additional money from city administrator Fred Russell.

"We have gone to the administrator and requested additional funding to pay for these attorneys' fees and other fees associated with conducting these hearings."

Russell has had to dip into the city's emergency funds to help pay for challenges like former commissioner Keith Brown.

Brown resigned his seat and dropped out of the upcoming mayoral race after questions about his residency.

With more challenges filed against mayoral candidates Ronnie Few and incumbent Deke Copenhaver, more money will have to come from the emergency fund.

"We're making efforts to make sure we don't spend any unnecessary, money but there is always things coming up like these challenges that have to be paid for and have to be funded," Russell said.

Once a challenge is filed, a special called meeting determines the validity of the claim. If it is found to be valid, a hearing is set.

Then the actual hearing takes place, like the one in which Keith Brown tried to defend his residency.

The challenge filed against Brown is estimated to cost the city between $6,500 and $9,000.

"It's expensive," Russell said. "A court reporter recording the meetings and stuff."

"The bottom line is, it was not included in the Board of Elections 2006 budget, so this would be additional funding in some form or fashion," Bailey said.

A hearing date is set for the residency challenge for Augusta mayoral candidate Ronnie Few. The hearing will be September 21. Two voters have filed challenges against Few's residency.

Every cost is different depending on how long a hearing takes.

There may or may not be a hearing in regards to Diane Moss' claim that Mayor Copenhaver does not meet the requirements for residency. First, a special called meeting will take place to determine the validity of Moss's claim.

On the challenge against Copenhaver's residency, Moss carbon copied another candidate, Steven Kendrick.

News 12 spoke with Mr. Kendrick, who says he doesn't know Moss, has never met her, and is not involved with this challenge.