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Biloxi Democratic Executive Committee May Have Acted Outside of Law in Disqualifying Candidate

By Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com     Filed 3/9/05

When the Biloxi Democratic Executive Committee disqualified Jerri Kitchings from running for mayor of Biloxi last week, they may have broken the law.

Quoting WLOX news, which first reported the incident:

“Chris Moore says he was the one who delivered the news to Kitchings. Moore is the president of the Democratic Executive Committee. He says the committee voted not to endorse Kitchings because she's not a credible candidate, nor is she known within the party."

"We did not know this person, so we asked for a background check, and we found there were some questionable things, that she had had some run-ins with the legal system in more than one state," Moore said.

"We just didn't know her, not in the Democratic circles, and the committee voted unanimously not to certify her as a candidate for mayor."

WLOX goes on to report that, “Biloxi Police Chief Bruce Dunagan ran a background check on Jerri Kitchings at the Democratic Executive Committee's request. Dunagan confirms Kitchings has had some run-ins with the law. And the chief says she was convicted in Georgia of misdemeanor simple assault about ten years ago.”

The Sun Herald reported that Kitchings was arrested in Texas in 2000 on a minor drug charge that was dismissed by the judge.

According the David Blount with the Mississippi Secretary of State Office, the committee has the authority to check into the backgrounds of candidates, but the law only allows candidates to be disqualified for felony convictions not misdemeanors.

“They can’t deny certification for things not in the law,” Blount told GulfCoastNews.com. “Being convicted of a misdemeanor does not disqualify her.”

Blount also added that, “Being a non-credible candidate, does not disqualify her from running for office.”

The committee’s use of the Biloxi Police Department to conduct a background check is not unusual, according to Blount. State law requires executive committees to verify that candidates have not been convicted of a felony.

“The only way they can do that is to use a police department,” Blount said. “But such information must be part of the public record, and available to anyone.”

However, there are no provisions in state law, says Blount, as to the specific way election commissioners are to get the information. The law does not address how commissions can use police departments or city services to obtain information on candidates. “It is up to the relationship such commissions have with the cities,” Blount said.

Most issues in the law are well defined, but not this one. The fact that election committees can access police departments to do background checks on individuals should perhaps be better defined in state law.

Typically, getting information from Biloxi police is filled with bureaucratic red tape and runaround. GCN is aware of a situation where the police department has not complied with a freedom of information request over a simple accident report.

Amazingly, The Sun Herald newspaper, in a story published Wednesday, March 9, failed to mention that the Biloxi Police Department was the source of the background information gathered against Kitchings by the Democratic Executive Committee.

GCN has requested documents from the city on the records provided to the committee on Kitchings.

Meanwhile, Kitchings has filed a protest to appeal the committee’s actions. If she had qualified, Kitching's would be the sole opponent to Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, a republican, in the upcoming municipal elections.

GCN contacted Election Commissioner Chris Moore on Wednesday and asked him to explain the committee’s actions.

Said Moore, “I’ve been advised not to make any statements since she (Kitchings) is in the appeals process.”

Additional Information:

Biloxi Woman Says She Was Denied Right to Run For Mayor - WLOX.com

Can't Run So She Protests - The Sun Herald

City of Biloxi Webpage on Qualified Municipal Candidates

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