Candidate's aunt steps down from Caledonia election commission

June 14, 2017 11:08:32 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


Caledonia's ability to hold its municipal election on July 18 may depend on a work schedule.


Today, Mildred Wiggins -- an aunt to mayoral candidate Mitch Wiggins -- told The Dispatch she was resigning as election commissioner immediately and would not work the July 18 election. Wiggins' resignation leaves the town with the minimum of three commissioners required by law, but one of those commissioners, Betty Kirkland, may have a work conflict that would prevent her from serving.


"At this point, they have three election commissioners," town attorney Chris Hemphill said. "At the last (election commission) meeting Monday night (Kirkland) was out of town."



Kirkland, an international flight attendant, did not work the original municipal election on June 6, but did work the following day as the ballots were recounted. She is currently out of the country on a flight.


Mildred Wiggins is the second commissioner to resign since the June 6 election, which the commission voted unanimously to throw out after improper handing of the ballot box.


Former chair Ken Byars resigned June 9 after acknowledging he had taken the ballot box home, without the proper seal, on June 6 in violation of state code.


Mildred Wiggins said Hemphill advised her to step down due to her relation to Mitch Wiggins.


"He told me there was every reason for me not to work the next election, due to the law," said Mildred Wiggins, who has served as election commission for the town for 40 years. "I immediately told him I would resign. According to the Attorney General's office, my serving would be a case of nepotism."


Mitch Wiggins is running against incumbent mayor Bill Lawrence. The very close June 6 election rendered three counts -- two of which showed Lawrence with a narrow lead and another with the race tied -- none of which tallied the same number of total votes.


Mildred Wiggins was a commissioner in 2013 when her nephew was elected to the board of aldermen.


"I'm perfectly happy with not serving," Mildred Wiggins said. "But I am disturbed by the manner in which this happened. Nothing was said until after the (June 6) election ended. Somebody started digging into things after that. That's what bothers me. I had said all along, for all the years I've served, that I would bow out if I was not needed or not wanted for any reason."



A new commissioner?


Hemphill said if Kirkland is unavailable for the July 18 election, the board of aldermen will have to select another commissioner when it meets on July 5.


That could be problematic, however.


"I don't know of anyone in the town limits that has the required training to be a commissioner," said Donna Egger, who serves alongside Martha Hopkins and Kirkland on the commission.


State law requires commissioners must have state training within six months of an election.


Hemphill said that training could be provided on short-notice in a situation such as the one the town faces.


"There have been instances when Secretary of State's office has stepped in to train people in time for local elections," Hemphill said. "(The appointed commissioner) may have to go down to Jackson to meet with them."


No one in the Secretary of State's office was available to confirm that by press time.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]