Como-New Mayor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sumner sworn in, takes mayor’s office in Como

By Rupert Howell

“Here is the future of Como,” Judy Sumner told onlookers pointing toward Shakil Conrad, an African-American teenager standing at the podium. Conrad works nearby at one of the restaurants that has been a bright spot in Como’s business district.

Approximately 70 or 80 well wishers,  family members and local dignitaries were on hand last Friday at 6 p.m. when Sumner took the oath of office on Main Street, facing the line of restaurants that has given the small community new life over the past few years.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And it’s been a long road for Sumner who had faced incumbent Azria “Bobby” Lewers, who was last sworn in as mayor in July, 2005 following the May 17, 2005, municipal election.

Sumner was declared mayor of Como following a legal struggle that consumed most of the term to which she was elected. The term to which Sumner has now been declared to have been elected ends in June, 2009

Judge Kenneth M. Burns ruled recently that Sumner had won the July, 2005 election by a vote of 302 to 298 following a day of testimony May 9 in the Panola County Courthouse in Sardis.

Burns ruled that the Como Democratic Executive Committee’s (CDEC) May 24, 2005, decision to count absentee ballots which had been previously rejected had been in error and the election in issue in the case was won by Sumner by a vote of 302 to 298.

Sumner had first filed a petition in June, 2005. In a trial in November, 2006, Circuit Judge Sharion Aycock upheld Lewers’ election on a technicality. Sumner appealed Aycock’s ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court. After more than a year, the Supreme Court reversed Aycock’s decision on January 17, 2008.

Attorney Ellis Turnage represented the CDEC; Gerald Chatham represented Sumner.

Burns was appointed to hear the case by the Mississippi State Supreme Court.

At the heart of the matter were 12 absentee votes counted on May 24 by the Como Democratic Executive Committee.

Witnesses testified that previously rejected ballots were opened  and counted during a chaotic scene at City Hall on May 24 in the election certification process.

Nineteen of 95 absentee ballots were rejected unanimously by seven poll-workers the night of the election, according to testimony, and on May 24, the sealed envelope containing the ballots was opened and members of the Como Democratic Executive Committee counted 12 of the 19 ballots, all of which went for Lewers, giving him an eight-vote victory.

Other testimony from Nedra Dandridge, who was serving as Como’s city clerk during the election, stated the boxes containing ballots were secured in her office on the night of May 17. She testified the ballots remained secured in her office until May 24, when the election was certified.