Texas County Clerk Laura Crowley asked a Missouri court of appeals panel on Tuesday of last week to overturn a judge’s decision Friday that forces her to hold a June 2 election for the Texas County Memorial Hospital board of trustees.
The three-member panel denied it by late in the day.
Crowley sought the Springfield-based panel to intervene quickly. “Respondent (Circuit Judge John Beger) lacks the authority to order an individual or issue to be placed on the ballot less than eight weeks before the date of the election,” according to her court filing.
Crowley, through her attorney Parke Stevens Jr., the county prosecutor and counselor, said state statute 115.125.2 prevents it, citing, “No court shall have the authority to order an individual or issue be placed on the ballot less than eight weeks before the date of the election.” According to the court documents, Crowley argued that it was too late to reset the election, and ballots have already been voted. Crowley did not respond to a request for comment.
After hearing arguments on Thursday, Beger issued the edict calling on Crowley to:
•Reprint the ballots for the June 2 election.
•Add the name of Gina Umfleet of Licking, who previously had filed for a five-year term, but was disqualified by Crowley. That move made George Sholtz of Plato the only candidate on the ballot, according to the county clerk who declared that she was not required to hold an election because there was a sole candidate.
•Allow a write-in candidacy by including on the ballot a place to write in someone’s name. Steve Pierce, a Houston businessman, filed the lawsuit challenging Crowley’s actions after he was denied paperwork to become a write-in candidate.
That paperwork was filed Monday. He said the packet given to him didn’t include all of the required paperwork, but it was corrected.
•Contact any voter who has already cast an absentee ballot and allow them to vote again before the June 2 election or in a special election. Gov. Mike Parson earlier rescheduled elections from April 7 to June 2 because the coronavirus.
NO ELECTION RULING BY CLERK
When the filings closed on Jan. 21, two candidates had filed: Sholtz and Umfleet. About three weeks later, Feb. 11, Crowley sent Umfleet a letter stating she had disqualified her because she didn’t meet the requirements to be a candidate. According to Crowley, that made Sholtz the sole candidate, and she was not required to hold an election because there was a single candidate.
About a week earlier, on Feb. 4, Umfleet paid her 2019 personal property taxes but the check was returned due to insufficient funds. She paid cash on Feb. 14.
On March 2, Pierce arrived at the third-floor county clerk’s office to complete paperwork to declare his write-in candidacy for the board seat held by retiring member Janet Wiseman. A clerk called Crowley, who wasn’t in the office. She arrived about 20 minutes later and told Pierce there wouldn’t be an election, and she had called the secretary of state’s office to inquire.
Absentee voting began without the hospital board on the ballot. Pierce filed the lawsuit on March 10.
Beger said Crowley was bound by law “to put the election for Hospital Trustee on the ballot, even if one or more candidates withdrew or were removed from the ballot.” Additionally, Umfleet should have been given 30 days to rectify any unpaid taxes before removal from the ballot. Beger wrote Umfleet satisfied the obligation and should not have been removed from the ballot.
Beger ruled Crowley should have allowed Pierce to declare his write-in candidacy since it was completed before the second Friday preceding the election.
“Respondent Crowley argues the time for filing for a write-in candidate expires at the time of the candidate filings, in this case Jan. 21, 2020. The is plainly illogical and rejected by the court,” wrote Beger.
In her petition in Springfield, Crowley said it is simply too late to make any changes to the ballots.
It is the second time a county matter involving the hospital has hit the appeal court’s docket. Early last year, Sholtz tried to kill a proposal to create a short-term taxing district to help finance a surgical wing. In that case, Sholtz lost and the county earlier led opposition in circuit court and tangled with the Houston City Council in court.