Vidalia residents file recall petition against Lewis

Published 12:11 am Thursday, July 26, 2012

VIDALIA — A group of Vidalia residents hope they can get 1,174 certified voters to sign a petition to have a recall election against Police Chief Arthur Lewis.

The recall petition was submitted to the Concordia Parish Registrar of Voters office on July 17 with Anthony Scott Cupit listed as chairman and Martha Maxine Lushute listed as vice-chairman.

The petition must be signed by 33 and 1/3 of the qualified electors of the voting area, which are the four districts in Vidalia, no later than 180 days after being submitted.

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Lushute said she placed her name on the petition because a number of Vidalia residents began talking about recalling Lewis but weren’t taking any further action.

“My part in this is being able to help my community on something that they feel very strongly about,” Lushute said. “Each and every person has their own reason for wanting a recall election, so I can’t speak for them.

“I got into this because everyone was talking about it, but nobody wanted to get the ball rolling.”

In March, Lewis won the election for Vidalia police chief against opponent Todd Ainsworth by 39 votes.

Lewis — who won a special election for the seat in April 2011, after serving as chief on an interim basis for five months — had 869 votes. Ainsworth had 830 votes.

If the petition receives the necessary amount of signatures, the registrar of voters office has 15 days to certify the petition by verifying the voter eligibility of each person who signed.

Registrar of Voters Golda Ensminger said residents filing a recall petition for elections isn’t a rarity for her office, but that few of the petitions actually gain all the signatures or are verified.

The last recall election in Concordia Parish was in 1996 against school board member Marie Cowan.

The recall election was canceled, however, after a series of court proceedings questioned the validity of the signatures on the petition, Ensminger said.

If the registrar of voters office verifies the petition, it is then sent to the governor.

The governor would then issue an election proclamation within 15 days, if the required number of qualified electors in the voting area that signed the recall petition are verified.

The recall election would be held on the next available date, and voters would chose, “for the recall” or “against the recall.”

A majority of the votes cast must be in favor of the recall for the public officer to be recalled and removed from office.

A special election would then be held to fill the vacancy of the position. The recalled official could qualify to be a candidate in that election.

If the majority of the votes are not in favor of the recall, no further recall elections can be held against that public officer for 18 months.

Lewis said he wasn’t aware that a recall petition had been created, but that it didn’t necessarily surprise him.

“If I continue to do what’s right, I’m going to step on someone’s toes,” Lewis said. “If you do this job right, someone is always going to be against you.”

Lushute said she didn’t consider the petition a vendetta against Lewis or his administration, but that he simply hasn’t delivered what he promised to some residents.

“I just don’t think this is what we signed up for, and we expected more,” Lushute said. “This is not because we don’t like Arthur Lewis or that we want somebody else in there; there are just things that have happened and are continuing to happen that does not show great leadership.”

Since Lewis took office in March, several employees have been released, or terminated, and other personnel have been promoted or shifted to different job positions.

The group will have until Jan. 14, to turn in the petition with the appropriate amount of registered voters signatures.

Lushute said she is unsure of how many residents have currently signed the petition.

“I would say we’re going to have a lot more signatures than we need based on all the phone calls and e-mails,” Lushute said. “But you never know how it will turn out.”