Lawsuit over redistricting snafu may postpone some council races

Published 8:37 am Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A petition filed Monday morning in the 22nd Judicial District Court seeks a temporary injunction to prevent voting in the Nov. 4 Bogalusa City Council race for Districts B and C.

Plaintiffs in the case include Emma Dixon, Washington Parish NAACP President Elbert Buckley, Fate Ferrell, Bogalusa Voter’s League President Marvin Austin and Justin Arnold. Dixon and Arnold recently qualified to run for the City Council District B seat but were later notified they live in District C.

Defendants in the case include the City of Bogalusa, Washington Parish Registrar of Voters Randy Strickland and Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.

The lawsuit seeks to annul purported redistricting of the Bogalusa City Council District B and C, for declaratory judgment; and for injunctive relief.

Judge William J. Knight was assigned to preside over the case. The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 30.

“This would be a friendly lawsuit, meaning none of the defendants would protest the suit,” Dixon said. “Defendants in the suit admitted that errors were made in following procedure as outlined by Louisiana state law. What we want is to put the Benchmark Plan back in and give candidates an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to qualify by petition for an established city seat.”

According to election guidelines, if the lawsuit is successful a special election must be held early next year for voting in City Council District B and C races.

Dixon said Bogalusa Mayor Charles Mizell played a major role in trying to get things worked out. Dixon said she, Mizell, Schedler and others met during an Oct. 15 meeting at Bogalusa City Hall.

“I just want to give credit to the mayor,” Dixon said. “Mayor Mizell said ‘I will notify everybody and get everybody together to solve this problem.’ That was exactly what he did.”

Also at the Oct. 15 meeting were Schedler’s top assistant, Kyle Ardoin, State Attorney General Bill Brian, Washington Parish President Richard Thomas, Bogalusa City Council President Doug Ritchie, Bogalusa City Attorney Dale Branch, Bogalusa District C Councilwoman Oneita Graham, Melvin Keith, Joseph Bailey, Ferrell, Strickland and Arnold, among others.

“I feel better that action has been taken to correct the problem,” Dixon said. “The recommendation came from Schedler. He and I have worked together on several projects in St. Tammany. The fact he was brought in was of paramount importance for getting this straightened out.”

Strickland declined to comment until he saw a copy of the lawsuit.

Early voting for the Nov. 4 election began Oct. 21 in Washington Parish. “We’re trying to do a service to the voters because they’re confused right now,” Dixon said.

Dixon made it clear that she is running for the District B seat.

“I’m running for District B, not C,” Dixon said. “I’m not moving anywhere.”