HILLSBORO — Hillsboro voters chose a mayoral candidate in August who lives outside the town of 618 people, and it will now be up to council members to consider annexing his property and choosing the next mayor, according to a mediation agreement.
A former Hillsboro councilman, Scottie Bolden, 51, had a 122-99 edge in votes against longtime incumbent Mayor Charles Owens in the Aug. 25 municipal election. But three days later, Owens, 66, filed a complaint in Lawrence County Circuit Court against Bolden and the Town of Hillsboro saying Bolden “does not reside within the city limits or boundaries” of Hillsboro.
The dispute landed in mediation hearings last week, preventing the scheduled Nov. 2 swearing in of a new mayor.
Mediation records show the three parties involved — Bolden, Owens and the town — agree the Town Council “should be encouraged” to “immediately annex Scott Bolden’s property in the city …. Then vote to appoint the mayor of Hillsboro, Alabama, from any citizen over the age of 18, which resides in the city.”
“The Parties agree that they will work together and with any person appointed or elected, for the best interest of the citizens,” according to the agreement.
The part-time mayor's position pays $500 a month.
Mediator Jerome Thompson of Moulton did not return phone calls to discuss the process.
State law provides that an election must be declared void if the winning candidate is found to be ineligible for office, thus creating a vacancy.
Pursuant to state law, the council has 60 days to appoint a mayor in the event of a vacancy. If it fails to do so, the governor has 90 days to appoint a mayor. “If the governor were to fail to fill the vacancy within 90 days, the probate judge shall call for a special election to fill the vacancy,” the code reads.
On Sept. 1, the Town Council canvassed the election results and determined Bolden had received a majority of the votes.
The council then issued a certificate of election declaring Bolden as the new mayor. Prior to the council issuing the certification of election, “Owens, as a citizen of the town, and not in his capacity as mayor or candidate challenged Bolden’s eligibility on the basis that he believes Bolden lives outside the city limits of Hillsboro,” according to the mediation agreement filed in court records.
Hillsboro's Town Council did not hold its organization session Nov. 2 because of Owens’ contest of Bolden’s eligibility.
Bolden, youth pastor at Wheeler Church in Lawrence County, served as a council member for two terms from 2008 to 2016, living at the same address he has now, he said.
“I can serve as a council member, but I can’t as mayor?” he said last week.
Bolden said there was a question about his house being across the street from the town limits in 2008 and said the council annexed it between 2008 and 2010. He said he has lived there since 2004.
“But now the town can’t provide evidence of that,” he said. “I guess it was never recorded. It should be in the council minutes, but the town can’t locate the minutes of the meetings back then. I was assuming I was in the town limits, and nobody from Town Hall ever told me I wasn’t.”
Records show Bolden won the 2008 and 2012 elections unopposed. He did not seek reelection in 2016.
Owens, retired from International Paper in Courtland, was seeking his fourth consecutive term as mayor when he finished second to Bolden in August. He defeated incumbent Billy Ray Young in 2008 and ran unopposed in 2012 and 2016. He also served as a council member since 1986.
“My client is happy with the outcome of the mediation,” Owens’ attorney John Kimbrough of Moulton said.
In an affidavit, prepared by Hillsboro Town Attorney Thomas Denham of Moulton on Oct. 15, Town Clerk Andrique Moore wrote she accepted Bolden’s qualification papers in July.
“After inspecting the city maps, I realized Mr. Bolden did not reside within the city limits of Hillsboro,” her affidavit said. “I informed Mr. Bolden of this fact, however, and he said, ‘go ahead and put me in.’ ”
She said after the conversation she called the League of Municipalities and “they informed me I did not have the authority to keep Mr. Bolden off the ballot. Therefore, I did allow him to qualify. It is my understanding that Mr. Bolden knew at the time of his qualification that he was not a resident of the Town of Hillsboro.”
League attorney Rob Johnston said Tuesday that a court, not a town clerk, generally generally makes the ruling on a candidate's eligibility.
Bolden said Moore’s sworn statements are not accurate and she is trying to protect herself from any claims of wrongdoing.
Hillsboro Town Council member Delandrion Woods said council members for the new term will be sworn-in Thursday and will meet Monday to follow up on the mediation agreement.
He said he has not discussed the mayoral vacancy with the other four council members, but he favors appointing one of the candidates to the vacancy.
“The election was between Charles and Scottie,” he said. “We had citizens of this town to cast their ballots for those candidates. That’s fair and coherent with how the town’s citizens voted. I don’t think we should appoint somebody else.”
Woods said he won’t make a decision on who to support until he has more information about the mediation.
“I’m ready to get this issue settled and move forward as a town,” he said. Woods said the town's No. 1 ongoing project involves repairs to Oakdale Avenue related to poor drainage and flooding. “We’ve applied for grant money and it will be a great milestone for this town to get that completed,” he said.
He said renovating the former Tennessee Valley School continues to be an ongoing project. “It’ll be for establishing a library and summer programs for the kids,” he said.