City council candidates in Letcher County will have to rely on write-in ballots in the fall election, after an obscure bill in the state legislature moved up the deadline for filing in city and school board races by more than two months without many officials’ knowledge.
The deadline for nonpartisan candidates to file their papers to run came and went with only one member of the Whitesburg City Council filing for reelection, and none filing in Neon.
The deadline for filing in city races that do not have a primary election had been the Tuesday after the first Monday in August in the past, but House Bill 381 in 2018 changed that to the first Tuesday in June. The bill was sponsored by then State Rep. Kenny Imes, who is now Calloway County Judge/Executive, and State Rep. David Osborne, of Prospect, and was passed by the legislature on April 2, 2018. It became law without the governor’s signature, and since 2019 was an off year for elections, the law apparently escaped the attention of many.
Neon Mayor Susie Polis said Tuesday that she still had not heard about the change.
“Oh my goodness. With everything else going on, it just slipped our minds,” Polis said. “I just wasn’t paying any attention.”
If she wasn’t paying attention, a lot of others weren’t either. In Whitesburg, City Council Member Derek Barto was the only person to file for the November election.
Now council members like Larry Everidge, who has served on the council since 2009, and Sheila Short, who has served all put one term since 2006, will have to run write-in races. So will anyone who wants to challenge an incumbent.
“I guess I’ll have to,” Everidge said. “That’s the only way we can run.”
Short said she will run as a write-in as well.
“ I would have been right there and filed if I had known there was a change. I don’t think any of us did except for Derek,” she said.
Whitesburg Mayor James Wiley Craft said the change in state law was made “without any fanfare,” and he didn’t know anything about it until the deadline for candidates to file had already passed.
“I have historically alerted the sitting council as to the deadline for the filing, and this time I didn’t know to do it this time and no one has told me or alerted me that the deadline was June (2),” Craft said.
Whitesburg City Council Member John Pellegrini was furious about the lack of notice about the deadline change, calling it “insane.”
Pellegrini filed as a write-in candidate last week, which still cost $50, but carries with it the need to educate voters on how to cast a write-in a vote, and to recognize that he is even running, since no names other than Barto’s will appear on the ballot.
“That was impressively bad,” he said. “I am amazed they did this change without notification.”
He said the change is “not only an injustice, but a disenfranchisement.”
In Jenkins, all incumbent council members filed for reelection, but Mayor Todd Depriest said it was only by chance that they found out about the short deadline.
“Luckily the League of Cities put something out four or five weeks ago, and I just happened to read it,” Depriest said, adding that the story was in a weekly newsletter put out by the organization, but wasn’t clear that city council races would be affected.
He said he forgot about the story until the Friday before the deadline, when the city manager was going to courthouse and he was reminded of it. Depriest asked him to check on it at the county clerk’s office.
“Normally I wouldn’t have even read that, but … it was enough to get my attention that might affect us,” Depriest said.
All incumbent school board members in the county district and the Jenkins
Independent District who are up for reelection got their paperwork filed on time.