DeRidder election dispute

Residents express anger over ruling on City Council member

DeRidder residents voiced their frustrations Monday night over the recent ruling that a councilman at-large is ineligible for the seat they elected him to.

During the City Council meeting, multiple residents openly questioned council members about their role in “allowing” council member Mike Harris to be deemed ineligible by Beauregard Parish District Attorney James Lestage, and asked Mayor Misty Clanton why she had not “overruled” the decision.

“I couldn’t be more ready for this to end, but there is nothing that I can do to end this suit,” Clanton stated. “I am ready to move forward.”

Beauregard Parish NAACP president Geneva Butler said that the dysfunction among  city leaders was painful to watch, and that removing Harris from his seat would be making residents feel that their votes are being taken away from them.

“He (Harris) was elected. Our votes cannot be taken away from us, we refuse to let our votes be taken away,” Butler stated.

During what could potentially be his last words from his public seat, Harris said that he intends to fight the District Attorney’s ruling, and made accusatory statements that former mayor Ron Roberts had committed criminal actions during his time in office. Harris also accused fellow council member Randy Larken of unethical actions by noting that a property which had recently been marked for condemnation by the council was now being sold by the real estate company Larken works for.

Larken said that the property is not being sold by he himself, and that the ethics board had approved his ability to vote on the condemnation vote during previous council meetings.

“Any other vote I abstained from, and that was after discussions with the ethics board and council president,” Larken stated.

Harris also accused city attorney David Lestage of a conflict of interest in representing him because of his parental relation with District Attorney Lestage.

“I don’t believe in hitting someone because I’ve been hit, but I promise you I’m gonna fight this to the bitter end,” Harris stated.

This week, Lestage released his official opinion that Harris was not eligible for his seat on the city council because he did not have a domiciliary residence within the city limits – a requirement mandated by the DeRidder City Charter.

In his official opinion, Lestage said he received a written complaint from former mayor Ron Roberts as a private citizen, and that as District Attorney he is required to investigate any and all complaints against a public official’s eligibility for office.  

In his investigation, Lestage’s opinion said, Harris’ actions did not reflect his statements that he had moved his domiciliary residence to a home he owned inside of city limits, and that Harris had continued to make his domicile at a residence outside of DeRidder’s limits. Because of those findings, Lestage said he intends to file suit to declare Harris’ seat vacant within ten days.

On Aug. 8, Natchitoches Parish Judge Eric Herrington dismissed a previous lawsuit filed by Roberts as mayor through the city attorney in May challenging Harris’ eligibility. Herrington ruled that the city failed to follow the state Election Code in its challenge by not filing it within seven days of the end of qualifying in January.

Harris was elected as city councilman-at-large in an April run-off election.

In November of 2017, then council president Elizabeth Granger resigned from her position on the council when her family moved to a new residence located outside of city limits.

‘I don’t believe in hitting someone because I’ve been hit, but I promise you I’m going to fight this to the bitter end.’

Mike Harris

City Councilman

””

DeRidder city attorney David Lestage, seated next to Mayor Misty Clanton, fields questions from residents Monday night about the motives behind the recent decision by District Attorney Jimmy Lestage that council member-at-large Mike Harris is ineligible for the office voters elected him to.

Pamela SleezerBeauregard and Vernon Parish Reporter
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