Chris Berendt Staff Writer
August 20, 2013
Garland town board hopeful John Jones will not appear on the ballot following a unanimous ruling by the Sampson County Board of Elections Tuesday.
The board adopted an order that sustained a challenge made to Jones’ residency by Randolph Smith. Jones’ residence was the subject of a hearing last week, during which the board considered evidence by Jones, Smith and half a dozen others who were sworn in to speak.
Jones, one of seven people who filed for one of Garland’s three open commissioners seats, gave an address of 52 N. Bladen Ave., Garland, at the time he filed. Objectors said he lives at 230 Presidents Lane, Clinton, the address he changed at the time of filing, saying he had been living in Garland.
“The burden of proof is on Jones to prove by the greater weight of the evidence that he resided at 52 North Bladen Ave. for at least 30 days prior to his filing as a candidate for election to the Garland town board,” said Board of Elections chairman Ted Lockerman in reading the board’s order Tuesday. “Serious questions have arisen related to Jones’ residency at 52 North Bladen, and it is the findings of the board that Jones has not carried his burden of proof with regard to the three requirements he must show.”
Those three requirements include abandonment of the first domicile, proof of acquisition of a new domicile and proof that he did not intend to return to his previous domicile.
During testimony last week, Jones said Clara Robinson, the owner of the North Bladen Avenue property, was being harassed by a contingent of people in Garland because he was staying at the home. Jones told his cousin Marcus Artis, who is Robinson’s grandson and is the tenant at the Bladen Avenue home, that he did not want to cause trouble for Artis or his grandmother, subsequently leaving the residence.
At the hearing, Jones presented an affidavit of residence, signed by Artis and Paul Herring, who lives at 195 E. Second St., Garland, stating that he lived at the Bladen Avenue residence from June 5 to July 26. After that time, upon the alleged harassment, he moved into the Second Street residence with Herring, according to Jones’ testimony.
Following the hearing, however, the board conducted an independent investigation, contacting Artis and requesting that he meet with the board. That was done on Friday, the day after the hearing, at which point Artis said he was unclear how he and his grandmother were involved in the situation. Lockerman asked him about the affidavit.
“The board members present were informed that Mr. Artis had never seen the affidavit before,” said Lockerman, “and that the proposed signature for him was not his signature. He stated he knew nothing about the matter other than that Jones requested he be allowed to park one of his vehicles in his yard for a few days.”
Artis said his cousin Jones never lived with him. Robinson had testified as much last week, saying she never rented to Jones and did not know him.
Smith testified he was very familiar with both the North Bladen Avenue and East Second Street residences, and that it was common knowledge that Jones did not live at the Bladen Avenue home at any time.
“It’s a known fact. He doesn’t live there,” Smith said last week. “Mr. Jones does not now, nor has he ever, lived in the town of Garland,” said Smith. “He lives at 230 Presidents Lane in Clinton. That’s where he pays his taxes, that’s where he gets his light bill. That’s where he lives.”
When Jones came into the Board of Elections to file, he was initially told he could not run because of the 230 Presidents Lane, Clinton, address. However, Jones said he had been staying at the Bladen Avenue address for close to two months, meeting the one-month residency requirement, and changed his voter registration to that Bladen Avenue address.
During the hearing, Smith presented various searches that revealed Jones’ residence at 230 Presidents Lane, Clinton, as well as his 2013 Sampson County tax bill which bore the same address. Smith showed pictures of the Clinton home, where Jones had multiple cars parked that belong to him.
But Jones had a piece of information, in the signed affidavit, that stated he had lived in Garland.
Upon being presented with the signed affidavit, Robinson testified that the signature for Artis was not her grandson’s. Commissioner Mike Toler also testified that he traveled from Garland to Clinton numerous times during July and frequently met Jones’ vehicle traveling the opposite way on U.S. 701, toward Garland, between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Jones has operated a barber shop on Ingold Avenue in Garland for the past decade.
Lockerman said all the evidence was considered leading up to the board’s decision to sustain Smith’s challenge and disqualify Jones from the election. Board member Danny Jackson made the motion to adopt the board order and Horace Bass offered a second. Lockerman concurred.
“Jones is thus not eligible to have his name placed on the ballot as a candidate for the office of Garland town council for the November 2013 election,” Lockerman said. “The challenge of Randolph Smith to the candidacy of John Jones for the office of Garland town council is sustained.”
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Jones stood by his evidence but said he respected the board’s decision and the position Artis was put in.
“I knew he wasn’t going against his grandmama,” said Jones. “I respect his decision, but that’s his signature. No doubt about it.”
Jones said he felt it was another sad day for the small town where he works, noting the town of Garland’s checkered operations in past years and the need to continue to turn things around.
“I think it’s a sad occasion for the town of Garland. It’s going to be business as usual,” said Jones. “I feel like I could have made a big difference. They need more people that have character down there.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.