Ashley-Palmertree handily defeats three Counting today will decide two races

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shelly Ashley-Palmertree beat back three opponents Tuesday for a third term in the circuit clerk’s office, while one deputy tax assessor defeated another for the office’s top job and more than 800 absentee and affidavit ballots will decide the outcome of close races for chancery clerk and tax collector.

Ashley-Palmertree, 41, took 49.7 percent of the vote at the polls, well ahead of the 32.1 percent for independent Jan Hyland Daigre, the closest of her trio of challengers.

“I feel good about it,” she said late in a long night of vote-tallying at the Warren County Courthouse. “I’m fixing to kick these boots off and put my feet up.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The incumbent won 17 of Warren County’s 22 precincts to clinch a third term, with the largest margins coming from inner-city precincts. Daigre, 50, a former Vicksburg Warren School District trustee, was strongest in south Vicksburg and Yokena. Republican David Sharp, 29, won 13 percent and independent Robert Terry, 55, garnered 5 percent.

In the past week, Ashley-Palmertree’s office came under scrutiny for not reporting absentee ballot totals to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office before Election Day votes were tallied. No deadline exists in state law to do so, but Hosemann said he pushed the early reporting to cut any chance for fraud and to bring attention to growing numbers of absentee votes cast in each election cycle since 2008 in Mississippi, which, unlike 35 other states, does not have early “no excuse” voting.

When asked, Ashley-Palmertree said she wasn’t sure how she’ll handle future requests for absentee totals before an election.

“In my opinion, he should have made the circuit clerks aware of what he wanted so we could all be prepared,” she said.

Daigre’s effort fell short despite heavy advertising and name recognition from her single term on the school board. Early results showed it would be a long night, she said.

“I got numbers really, really quick,” Daigre said. “I saw the writing on the wall pretty early. But we ran a hard campaign on the facts and there’s not one thing I’d have done differently.”

Ashley-Palmertree remains central to an inquiry of fee accounting practices questioned this year by the State Auditor’s Office. In September, she was ordered by State Auditor Stacey Pickering to repay to the county $199,588 that had been held in escrow. The money represents funds she and her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, withdrew from criminal and civil court statutory fee accounts in excess of what state law allowed. An additional $340,000 remains in dispute, according to a review by Pickering’s office.

The clerk is the chief officer of the circuit court and chief elections officer of the county, maintaining voter rolls, assisting election commissioners in purging voter rolls and in conducting primary and general elections. State law caps the circuit clerk’s pay and that of chancery clerks at $90,000, but fees can push the salary above $100,000 in some counties. In 2008, Ashley-Palmertree made $145,776, third-highest in the state, according to the Office of the State Auditor.

In the chancery race, Republican Donna Farris Hardy led three opponents with 45.4 percent of the vote. Democrat Walter W. Osborne Jr. trailed with 42.5 percent. Absentees cast in person and by mail totaled 735 as of Tuesday morning, with affidavits expected to push that figure past 800.

Reprinted absentee ballots had arrived weeks ago without scannable codes. Officials with the circuit clerk’s office and the Election Commission delayed the manual count until 10 a.m. today.

A winner also will emerge in a tight race for tax collector, where incumbent Antonia Flaggs-Jones led by 101 votes at the precincts.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Hardy said as she left the circuit courtroom alongside her husband, Rick. “I’m never comfortable with (the margin), with that many absentees.”

Neither Hardy, 57, a retired health care industry administrator, nor Osborne, 52, Vicksburg’s city clerk since 1999 and, previously, a 15-year employee of the chancery clerk’s office, had run for public office before. The winner will succeed three-term incumbent Dot McGee, who is retiring.

“It’s tight!” Osborne said before leaving for the night. He was expected to be in Phoenix today to attend a National League of Cities convention.

Alecia Ashley, 36, a legal assistant, received 10 percent of the vote, while Gene Thompson, 70, garnered 1.3 percent. Both ran as independents.

Hardy won a runoff Aug. 23 over city accountant Doug Whittington for the GOP nod with 51.01 percent of the vote.

Flaggs-Jones, 40, a Democrat, had 50.35 percent of the vote and Patty Mekus, 45, a Republican, 49.65 percent. Each carried her party’s precinct bases — seven of 10 precincts Flaggs-Jones carried were inside the city, whereas Mekus carried precincts in supervisor District 1 at a nearly 2-to-1 clip.

Flaggs-Jones, the niece of state Rep. George Flaggs, has worked in the office 17 years and won the office unopposed in a 2009 special election following the retirement of 15-year tax collector Patricia Simrall. Mekus is a Vicksburg Catholic School employee.

For tax assessor, Angela Brown, 42, an 11-year employee of the tax assessor’s office finished ahead of 15-year employee Ben Luckett, 39, and two other candidates. Poll votes had Brown, a Democrat, with 37.49 percent of the vote to Luckett’s 29.21 percent. Doug Tanner, 53, an independent, finished with 18.9 percent and Republican Mike Caruthers, 56, had 14.3 percent.

Brown will succeed four-term Tax Assessor Richard Holland, who is retiring this year.

The bulk of Brown’s plurality came inside the city, where she won seven of the eight precincts in supervisor Districts 2 and 3. Luckett, who had filed as a Democrat in mid-March the day after Holland announced his retirement before switching to independent upon Brown’s entry into the race, won the traditionally GOP-friendly Culkin precinct with 38.6 percent of the 2,689 votes cast there. Neither could be reached this morning.

The chancery clerk’s office maintains all records for chancery courts and boards of supervisors in the state. Statutory duties include recording board minutes, preparing the claims docket and county payroll and recording and storing deeds, land records and documents received from the court.

This year’s races marked the first time the office had been contested since McGee defeated incumbent Beth Britt in 1999.