KINGMAN - One of the two men running against Mayor John Salem in the March primary is challenging the mayor's eligibility to run for office, mere hours after he was himself served with a legal challenge from Salem.
In a filing submitted with Mohave County Superior Court on Wednesday, Art Jones has alleged that Salem's petition for re-election falls below the 216-signature threshold required to qualify for a place on the ballot. Jones filed the answer just hours after receiving Salem's civil complaint, which also alleges that Jones failed to meet the signature requirement, in addition to failing to properly fill out his petition paperwork or show sufficient cause for running.
Jones has claimed as many as 97 of Salem's signatures are invalid, due primarily to the person's name not being on file with the Voter Registration Department, or due to discrepancies in the address shown on the petition versus that filed with the county. Jones also claims at least 10 of Salem's signatures should be thrown out due to the handwriting being illegible.
However, those explanations were not included on Jones' filing with the court, which simply lists page numbers and signature lines on Salem's petition, with little or no accompanying explanation. The filing concludes with a request from Jones that "the above signatures ... be verified that they are registered voters in the city limits." Jones' actual explanations were included in a spreadsheet submitted to the Miner on Monday.
But the spreadsheet itself raises a number of questions, as it contains a different set of page numbers and signature lines from the answer Jones filed with the court. Some entries are also obvious mistakes, as in the case of one "William Goodell," who Jones could not find any record of with Voter Registration. However, the listed address was the same as that of Bill Goodale, a Kingman Unified school board member and husband to Arizona House Rep. Doris Goodale, both of whom are registered voters. In that case, at least, it appears Jones misread Goodale's handwriting and mistook him for "Goodell," whom he was then unable to find.
Salem maintains that many of Jones' allegations are simply untrue. The mayor spent more than four hours at Voter Registration on Monday checking to verify whether Jones' claims matched what he found in the records.
"I went through every one of these to validate them, and he's correct on some of these, but on a lot of them, he's not," Salem said. As an example, he pointed out Jones' claim that Dr. Robert J. Rose's address on the petition did not match the one filed with the county when, in fact, it matches exactly.
It remains to be seen whether Jones' allegations will be considered when he and fellow contested candidate Jason Marino go before Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen on Jan. 5 to defend their petitions against Salem's civil complaints. Since Jones' allegations against Salem were made in an answer to Salem's complaint, and not in a separate civil complaint of his own, Jantzen may choose to disregard them.
In legal parlance, an "answer" is typically used by the defendant to respond to an initial complaint by either admitting or denying the allegations made against them, then setting forth new facts to justify themselves. However, Jones' answer appears only to attack Salem's eligibility, without offering any justification for his own.
Salem said he believes Jones is attempting to challenge him strictly in retaliation to his own challenge against Jones, and not out of a legitimate belief that he actually failed to collect the necessary number of signatures.
"My signatures are not in question - theirs are," Salem said of Jones and Marino. "The complaint is against them, not me. No one has filed a court case against me to challenge my petition, and the date's passed."
Jones' request that Salem's signatures be verified has apparently had no effect thus far, at least according to Kim Stewart, an administrative supervisor for Voter Registration. Stewart said the only way her department would verify Salem's signatures would be if the court ordered her to do so, and the only way to do that would been to file a formal civil complaint by last Wednesday.
"(Jones) could say whatever he wanted to in the response (to Salem's complaint)," Stewart said. "But without proof or a court order for us to check them, we don't check them."
Stewart added that it could be possible for Jantzen to order Voter Registration to check Salem's petition based on Jones' filing, but to do so would be extremely unusual. Salem's attorney, Mark Sippel, declined to comment on Jones' filing, having not had the chance to see it before this report was written.
He did, however, anticipate a fairly speedy hearing process, with Jantzen likely to make a final decision on Jones' and Marino's eligibility the day of the hearing.
"We're going to have a judge tell us exactly what they think fairly quickly. That is how the election timing is done," Sippel said. "We may roll over a day, but I think the judge set the proper time frame and we'll see what we'll see."
If Marino and Jones are removed from the ballot, they will be ineligible to run as write-in candidates due to Arizona's "sore loser" law, which prevents candidates from running as write-ins if their nominating petitions are successfully challenged.