Wilkinson County situation worsens

Published 12:25 am Saturday, August 11, 2007

WOODVILLE — The home of one of the players in the controversy surrounding the Wilkinson County elections burned Friday morning.

The Lake Mary Road house belonged to Kirk Smith, a candidate for the board of supervisors district 2 seat, and Donna Smith, who was arrested after voicing concerns about absentee ballot counting at the counting site.

Wilkinson County Sheriff Reginald Jackson was unavailable Friday for comment about the charges relating to the arrest.

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Smith is reportedly out on bond, and a video of the arrest — captured by cell phone — aired on a Baton Rouge television station.

Centreville resident Ann Greer, a member of the Wilkinson County Democratic Committee who alleges white members of the committee were excluded from the committee’s election preparations, said some community members believe the fire to be arson.

“A gas can was found at the house,” she said.

The Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they received a call about the fire, and the state fire marshal’s office said they were aware of the fire and would be investigating.

No official cause has been determined.

A significant portion of the controversy surrounding the election stems from a power grapple within the Wilkinson County Democratic Committee.

Committee Vice Chair Easter Prater assumed the position of committee chair in April after chairman Don Walsh died.

Prater is black, and Woodville resident Janie Reynolds said that did not sit well with some committee members.

“Some of the white members of the committee were upset a black person was the chair,” she said.

The committee has 12 black members and 19 white members.

On July 23, 19 of the 31 committee members met and elected Greer chair.

The announcement of the meeting was reportedly sent via certified mail, and was called by the required 25 percent quorum of the committee.

Poll workers and clerks were also appointed at that meeting.

Mississippi law requires party members to attend meetings where poll workers and clerks are appointed.

However, earlier that month — June 11 — Prater set a poll worker workshop that was reportedly supposed to double as a committee meeting.

Supporters of Greer allege the letter did not explicitly state the workshop was also a committee meeting.

When given the list of poll worker names appointed at the July 23 meeting, Prater reportedly replaced some individuals with those of her choice.

Prater later reportedly would not recognize poll workers who were not trained at sessions she gave.

Though Greer was elected by a majority of the committee, a letter from the Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi dated July 26 said the state party did not recognize her as chair.

Executive director for the state party Keelan Sanders wrote in a letter that the party did not recognize the June 23 meeting because the party was not aware of any reason to justify removing Prater from the position.

The letter also stated Prater has the discretion to serve out the remainder of the term vacated by Walsh, and stated the party will continue to recognize her as the chair of the county committee.

Nonetheless, Greer and several others reported to the Wilkinson County Courthouse to prepare election boxes Monday.

After deputies reportedly told the group to leave the area or face arrest, which the group did not do, Prater arrived on the scene with several deputies and had the boxes removed.

Greer and her supporters were not allowed to continue preparation of the boxes, and were not allowed to work the polls during Tuesday’s election.

“It’s clear I was elected,” Greer said. “I don’t have any animosity against Ms. Prater, but I hate to see that she’s taken it upon herself to run the elections in this manner.”

The FBI and members of the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division were also in Woodville this week after allegations of voter fraud and civil rights violations were leveled.

Prater was not available for comment Friday.