Unless a voter files a complaint with Upson County Elections Superintendent Norma Hodge by next Friday, Board of Education Member J.W. Bentley will be able to seek reelection while listing his home address as Bentley and Sons Funeral Home.
Questions have been raised about Bentley's legal residency. He has built a home at 5493 Crest Highway and admits that his wife lives in that home. However, he told The Thomaston Times he spends up to 16 hours a day at the funeral home and considers that 518 N. Hightower location his "permanent residence."
The Crest Highway home is not in school board district one, which Bentley was elected to represent four years ago. When he qualified for election in 2000, he did not list the funeral home as his residence. Instead, he listed a home at 524 N. Hightower St. and public records show that he paid property taxes on that home.
Property taxes for the Crest Highway home and land were paid by "Johnny Bentley," according to tax records.
Records show that J.E. Bentley Jr., pays property taxes on the funeral home business.
For now, Bentley's statement that the funeral home is his residence stands unchallenged.
Hodge said that registered voter Doris Francis made a complaint with Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox asserting that Bentley has moved from the district and does not meet the legal residency requirement.
The Thomaston Times could not confirm with the Secretary of State's office that a complaint had been made. The Times could not reach Francis for comment.
However, the Secretary of State does not get involved in local election issues. Under the law, Francis should have filed the complaint
with the local election's office, not the Secretary of State. The complaint must be made within 10 days of the close of qualifications.
"There is nothing I can do unless I receive a complaint," the elections superintendent said.
Kara Hodgson, a spokesperson for Secretary Cox, said the issue must be decided on the local level.
"If we were to receive a complaint about the qualifications of a local board of education member, we would automatically notify that person they need to file a complaint with the county, not the Secretary of State's office," said Kara Hodgson, a spokesperson for Secretary Cox.
"We handle questions regarding qualification of candidates or those holding state and federal offices, but issues regarding qualifications of municipal and county candidates or office holders are always referred back to the county's election's superintendent."
Atlanta Attorney David Walbert specializes in election law, said Thursday if Hodge does receive a complaint within the 10-day period, she "has a duty to investigate."
Walbert said if that does not happen, the only way to challenge the man's qualifications is by filing a lawsuit in Upson Superior Court.
"Any voter from the same election district can challenge a candidate for any reason in the court," he said, "but that tends to get expensive."