Despite his failure to pay city taxes on time, Paul Heywood’s name will remain on the ballot for Sturgeon’s special mayoral election on Tuesday.
The April 3 election resulted in a tie between Heywood, the incumbent, and former Mayor Danny Joiner, the challenger. Both candidates received 143 votes. While they could have settled the matter by flipping a coin, they instead agreed to hold a special election.
Heywood, who was appointed mayor after his predecessor, Alicia Walker, stepped down, failed to pay part of his city taxes, a total of $73.18, until April 18.
“I had no idea my taxes weren’t paid,” Heywood said. “It’s something my wife takes care of, and I didn’t even think about it. It was just a mistake.”
City Clerk Jean Richards certified Heywood as a candidate in January.
However, state law says that no person with city taxes or municipal user fees outstanding at the time he or she declares candidacy can be certified. The declaration of candidacy in Sturgeon was due Jan. 16, nearly four months before Heywood paid his taxes.
Richards said her predecessor never trained her to check candidates’ tax records.
“In the five years Ms. Richards has been clerk, the board has never sent her to any formal training,” Heywood said. “Did she go about the proper procedure? No. But she hasn’t been trained properly, either.”
Candidates are also required by law to submit an affirmation of tax payments, though none of the mayoral or aldermen candidates in Sturgeon did so. Richards said that’s because she was unaware of the new law, which took effect in January.
“I never received anything from the Ethics Commission on any new procedures,” she said.
Because the candidates were certified, both of their names must appear on the ballot.
Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said at this point, it’s too late to take anyone’s name off the ballot. Noren cited a similar case from the 1970s in Hartsburg, in which a man who didn’t live in the city received a write-in vote and tied with another candidate for the town board, with one vote apiece. Even though he was unqualified for the position, the man’s name had to appear on the runoff ballot because Hartsburg voters had not yet officially selected anyone for the position.
Noren said any Sturgeon resident could have officially challenged Heywood’s qualifications as a candidate before the April election. Courts, however, will not remove names from ballots within six weeks of an election.
No one in Sturgeon ever filed an official complaint about Heywood, but resident Ron Kanatzar said the Missouri Ethics Commission was contacted.
“We’ve called the Ethics Commission, but they said they had no jurisdiction in Sturgeon,” Kanatzar said. “There’s all these contradictions within the law.”
Several citizens wanted to address their concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but Heywood said City Attorney Harry Boul advised the Board of Aldermen not to “waste time” with the issue.
“It’s not productive to devote an entire City Council meeting to something the city can’t change,” Heywood said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Sturgeon resident Traci Chandler said Heywood is simply avoiding the issue. “He doesn’t want to stir the kettle right now,” she said. “He’s thinking of votes.”
Kanatzar said Heywood and Richard’s actions were not mistakes but blatant violations of the law.
“The city clerk and the mayor should have enough experience in their positions to know better,” Kanatzar said. “They have spit in the face of the city aldermen and the community.”
If Heywood is elected, Kanatzar and Chandler said they will file a petition with the Ethics Commission contesting the result. Kanatzar’s daughter, Rhonda Cremering, said this is an important matter.
“How can we expect our citizens to obey our laws, if our own mayor doesn’t?” she asked.