LaGrange calls for special election to replace late mayor

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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This story has been updated to include comments from the council on the timing of the call for the election.

Following a contentious called council meeting on Tuesday evening, the LaGrange City Council has called for a special election on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, to replace the late Mayor Willie T. Edmondson.

Many in the crowd questioned the decision to move so quickly in replacing the mayor, particularly because his funeral has not been held yet. Edmondson’s celebration of life service is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at his church, Bethlehem Baptist in West Point.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Arrington opened the meeting by saying he was deeply saddened by Edmondson’s passing and noted that despite previously running against him for mayor, he considered him a great friend.

“He was a pastor. He was a mentor. He was our mayor,” Arrington said. “I lost a great friend and mayor and a mentor. I want y’all to know that. I want y’all to understand that this is not an easy thing for us up here either.”

“I want all of y’all to know that — I’m looking at you in your eyes to tell you — I respect Mayor Edmondson dearly. He was my friend and he was my mentor,”  Arrington said. “We had to call the meeting tonight because the council, a majority of the council, asked for the meeting. Personally, this was not my route. I didn’t want to go this way.”

Arrington said members of the council asked him to call for the meeting, but he refused, so three council members sent a letter to City Attorney Jeff Todd calling for the meeting. Once a majority of the council made the request, he was obligated to preside over the meeting.

Arrington asked Todd to explain why the timing of the meeting, which was called so soon after Edmondson’s passing.

Todd explained that when there is a vacancy on the council or mayor’s seat, if there is less than a year left on the term, the council can simply appoint someone to the position, otherwise there needs to be an election.

In even-numbered years, there are only three dates that are allowed to call for a special election under state law. The call also must be made at least 90 days before the election.

One is in March, which has already started voting. The second is on May 21 and finally, the third option is Election Day in November, Todd said.

“If you go back 90 days from May 21, and include the leap year, that is tomorrow,” Todd said. “If your goal is to get this on the May 21 ballot, you would need to act today.”

A large contingent of attendees opposed the meeting, saying calling to replace the late mayor before he was buried was disrespectful to the Edmondson family. Dr. Titus Roberson spoke on behalf of those opposing the action.

“It really grieves my heart to stand here tonight because I feel like we shouldn’t be here,” Roberson said. “I feel like this meeting didn’t have to be tonight. My pastor, my mentor, my friend, my brother, has not even been laid to rest.”

Councilman Leon Childs said he didn’t even know about the meeting until Monday when he was informed by Arrington.

“I didn’t know nothing about this meeting until yesterday,” Childs said. “It is a deplorable and despicable time to have this meeting. We just lost our pastor. He’s not even in the ground … It might be within the legality of the city and state codes but it’s morally wrong.”

Childs said he didn’t call for the meeting and Councilmen Quay Boddie and Arrington said they did not ask for the meeting, so only Councilmen Nathan Gaskin, Tom Gore and Mark Mitchell remained. None of the three denied writing the letter to Todd during the meeting. Mitchell later confirmed they had sent the request to Todd.

“This is not easy. It’s very hard. I see both sides of it. I want to think logically at the same time. When I came into this seat, this is the exact seat the Mayor Willie T. Edmondson sat. I remember being in my first month on the council, and I was nervous. I remember looking at him and I said, ‘I’m nervous’ and he took his glasses off. He looked me in the eyes, and he said you’re going to do great,” Boddie said.

“I understand that business has got to go on. Me personally, I just don’t feel like it should go on this soon,” he said.

Ultimately, the council voted 3-2 to call for the election on May 21, with Gaskin, Gore and Mitchell in favor and Boddie and Childs in opposition.

After the vote, Arrington resigned his council seat announcing his plans to run for mayor in May.

“Based on the early election and qualifying for the election being in two weeks, there’s really no reason for me to continue as mayor pro-tem because I plan to run for mayor in the next election,” Arrington said.

The remaining council later unanimously appointed Boddie as mayor pro-tem, who adjourned the meeting.

Following the meeting, the city called for another special meeting on Wednesday to consider a special election to replace Arrington’s council seat.