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More 'Oops' in Gulfport
Gulfport City Council to Revisit Vote on Election Commission Appointment
City Administrator Say Appointments Typically Not Vetted

by Keith Burton - GCN  12/2/08 update

A recent appointee to the municipal election commission by Gulfport has withdrawn from the post before serving, according to Dr. John Kelly, Gulfport's chief administrative officer.

At the city council's Nov. 18 meeting, Mayor Warr submitted three names for the council for approval as his nominees to the city's election commission. Among names was Greg Stewart, a Gulfport businessman who was described in a letter to the council from Warr as being, "A native of Oxford, MS and moved to Gulfport with his family in 2003. He is the general manager of the new Ramada Inn Airport in Gulfport and attends Trinity United Methodist Church with his wife."

The only problem, there was more to Stewart than this brief bio. He is also a convicted federal felon, Joe Gregory Stewart. Stewart pleaded guilty to one count of a federal conspiracy to commit extortion charge in March 2004 when he was a practicing attorney. He was disbarred after pleading guilty, paid a fine and served a three year probation. In September of this year, he sought, and was denied reinstatement as an attorney by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

"He (Stewart) has chosen not to accept the appointment due to some personal  problems," said Dr. Kelly this morning during a telephone interview.

The Gulfport City Council today will revisit the appointment to the city's election commission offered by Mayor Brent Warr as first reported by GCN this past Wednesday. Councilwoman Ella Holmes Hines has placed on the agenda a motion to reconsider the appointment of Stewart.

Dr. Kelly told GCN that the city had checked prior to the recommendation to see if Stewart was a registered voter in the city, but had not conducted a background check. "We have never conducted background checks on appointments in the past," Kelly explained. "I think it is a lesson to do more vetting of candidates for appointments," said Kelly.

"It is categorically not true that we knew about this issue before we made our recommendation. Stewart's name was submitted to us by another election commissioner," Kelly said.

A municipal election commission has broad powers. Besides coordinating city elections, election commissions are also tasked with qualifying and purging voter rolls.

GCN found that Stewart had registered to vote in both municipal and county elections Aug. 12, 2004, less than a month before his disbarment on Sept. 1, 2004, according to city and county officials contacted by GulfCoastNews.com. State laws prohibit felons from voting if convicted for certain crimes. Dr. Kelly said that he does not believe Stewart's extortion conviction would be among the crimes that would trigger the voting prohibition.

When the council was offered Warr's lists of nominees for the election commission Nov. 18, the vote was unanimous, with the exception of Councilmembers Libby Roland and Neil Resh, who were absent. But the council had very little information on the candidates. And with numerous past squabbles over Warr's various appointments, Warr's normal opposition of Councilmembers Barbara Nalley, Ella-Holmes Hines and Brian Carriere, chose to go along and at the time of the vote, they were unaware of Stewart's background.

Even with the withdrawal, the city council must vote again to remove the Stewart appointment from the official record. The  motion on the Dec. 2 agenda reads:

"...to reconsider council action of November 18, 2008 ratifying appointment of Mr. J Gregory (Greg) Stewart to the Gulfport Election Commission introduced by Councilmember Holmes-Hines."

Said Dr. Kelly, "This whole thing was an unfortunate situation."


Additional Information:

Gulfport Dec. 2nd Council Agenda - .pdf file

Stewart Ruling by Miss. Supreme Court - .pdf file

Mayor Brent Warr's Letter on Election Commission Nominees - .pdf file

The Cop and the Criminal Defense Attorney - overlawyered.com

Section 241. Qualifications for electors. (Mississippi Code)

Every inhabitant of this state, except idiots and insane persons, who is a citizen of the United States of America, eighteen (18) years old and upward, who has been a resident of this state for one (1) year, and for one (1) year in the county in which he offers to vote, and for six (6) months in the election precinct or in the incorporated city or town in which he offers to vote, and who is duly registered as provided in this article, and who has never been convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy, is declared to be a qualified elector, except that he shall be qualified to vote for President and Vice President of the United States if he meets the requirements established by Congress therefor and is otherwise a qualified elector. 

 

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