KINGMAN - Art Jones has been removed from the March mayoral primary ballot, leaving incumbent John Salem the sole candidate for the office once again.
Judge Lee Jantzen ordered Jones removed from the ballot following a three-hour civil hearing in Superior Court Tuesday afternoon where Salem's attorney, Mark Sippel, successfully argued that Jones had failed to properly complete his petition forms, leaving five of the eight required fields blank on each of his 35 petition pages, including the city, county, date and type of election his petitioners were signing to support him for.
"Thirty-seven and a half percent, that might be a great batting score, but it isn't a qualifying grade in any contest of which I am familiar," Sippel said, referring to the percentage of required fields Jones had filled out.
"A grade school child would be embarrassed at that."
Jones' own witnesses also helped sink his case, with one circulator, Frank Koslowski, admitting under Jones' own questioning that he had collected at least two signatures from a mother who had signed her children's names, reasoning that they always voted with her anyway.
Another of Jones' witnesses, Mike Pearson, acknowledged that he had failed to sign the back of the signature forms he had circulated, and that they had been signed by one of Jones' other circulators, throwing the validity of any petitions circulated by either man into question.
Sippel seized on the testimony of Jones' circulators, arguing that throwing out their offending petitions would be more than enough to drop Jones' number of valid signatures below the 216 threshold required to qualify for the March ballot.
"On the numbers, we believe the concept of fraud of a circulator applies here," he said.
"When you take all of those petitions out, we believe Mr. Jones fails on the numbers."
In his defense, Jones admitted that he had been in a rush to collect his signatures, having less than a week in which to do so, adding that neither he nor his circulators were experts on election law or had had substantial experience working for campaigns in the past. He also argued that he should have received more assistance from Kingman's city clerk, Debbie Francis, in making sure his petitions were completely filled out.
But Francis testified that her job description only called for her to count the signatures, not to verify them or any other area on the petitions. Sippel argued that Francis had provided Jones with the a copy of the city's election manual, which should have provided him all the information he would have needed to know what to fill out and why.
Sippel further contended that Jones was on record admitting that the only reason he chose to run was "to give Mr. Salem a run for his money," rather than to actually govern. But Jantzen said he found that the least compelling of the arguments against Jones, noting that such grassroots, off-the-cuff campaigning has become a staple of the American political process.
In fact, having dealt with the election process himself, Jantzen was sympathetic to Jones' plight and the short deadline his circulators had faced. He said he could imagine the rush they must have been in, getting together to do something they had never done before, scrambling to get as many signatures as they could.
"They had a short period of time to get it done, and they worked hard," Jantzen said. "But they cut corners."
Jantzen went on to say he did not believe there was any intentional fraud on the behalf of Jones or his circulators, but that their petitions were nevertheless called into question due to Koslowski's and Pearson's admissions.
He added that, while he felt that anyone willing to run for election should be allowed on the ballot, Jones' failure to fill out five of eight blanks on every single page of his petition was simply too egregious to ignore.
"You put your name, your address - without putting Kingman on it, it could be any address, anywhere, any place - and you put 'mayor,'" Jantzen said. "But it doesn't talk about where, it doesn't talk about mayor of what, and I know we only have three large cities in the county, but it doesn't even talk about Mohave County."
Had Jones listed Kingman on just the first page of the petition, Jantzen said, that might have been enough to reasonably expect subsequent signers to know what mayoral election Jones was running for. "I believe if you'd have just put it after your address, (that would have been) substantial compliance, the spirit of the law," Jantzen said.
"A person could walk up to this and find out you're running for mayor of Kingman without looking at anything else."
While his gut reaction was to allow Jones onto the ballot, Jantzen said his failure to properly fill out the jurisdiction on his petition, combined with his circulators' failure to meet their legal obligations, was enough to convince him otherwise.
Jantzen ordered Salem's complaint against Jones be granted and Jones' name removed from the ballot.