DECATUR — Kara Demirjian Huss sent a letter to city officials on Tuesday requesting her name to be put on the ballot for mayor and criticizing their handling of the filing process after she failed to submit all the required paperwork.
"I am disappointed that during the weeklong submission period I received no notice from the city suggesting my materials were incomplete," Demirjian said in the letter. "Although any action or inaction by the city may not be a violation of law, when foregoing observations are reviewed in their totality, I believe that my supporters, campaign staff and I are compelled to deliver this request to the city."
The request from the marketing executive comes a week after the City Clerk Kim Althoff notified Dermijian Huss' nominating petitions for office could not be certified because she had not included a receipt showing she had filed what's called an "economic statement of interest" — a legal form that lists any business or financial interests the candidate may have with the local unit of government for which they are running for office.
Demirjian Huss said in the letter that she learned the city clerk went through a checklist of the required forms needed for a complete petition with other candidates and "I believe I did not receive the same assistance."
On Wednesday, Althoff said she did indeed tell Demirjian Huss that the receipt for the form was needed and provided a copy of the checklist to the Herald & Review that Demirjian Huss signed on Nov. 19, when she filed her paperwork. The line for the missing receipt of economic interest is unchecked with a note from Althoff, reading "Brought in statement of economic interest, 8 a.m. — need receipt."
"I took each candidate into to my office to accept their nominating papers," Althoff said. While going through the checklist with Ms. Demirjian Huss, Althoff said she immediately noticed that she had the statement of economic interest attached within her nominating papers rather than the receipt. "At that moment, I informed her that the (form) needed to be filed with the Macon County clerk’s office, which is clearly stated at the top of the (form), and that I needed the receipt which was also noted on the checklist. At that time, I had her remove the statement of economic interest from her nominating papers and told her that I needed the receipt."
Demirjian Huss disputes that account.
"She took my (petition paperwork) and told me that that I needed to file (a statement of economic interest) at the county, and they’d give me a receipt — that is all she said to me," Demirjian Huss said.
Demirjian Huss also said in the letter she requested a meeting with Althoff to answer questions she had about properly filling out the documents required to run for office, but "you refused to meet with my representative citing your inexperience with elections."
Althoff also refuted that claim on Wednesday. "Neither Ms. Demirjian Huss or anyone representing themselves as being from Ms. Demirjian Huss’s campaign ever contacted us to request a meeting," she said. "The only call that we received about a potential meeting was from a local attorney asking to meet to discuss past issues — my response was that this was my first election and that I hadn’t experienced any issues and the attorney said 'OK.' We never refused any meeting with anyone."
No candidates were treated differently than Demirjian Huss, Althoff said. "It was me who noticed that Ms. Demirjian Huss’ filing was not complete — no candidate or candidate’s supporter brought it to my attention. Also, no other candidate failed to file the receipt."
While there is no law that bars election administrators from giving advice or direction to candidates on the filing process, Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said it's a general practice that they not do so. The main is reason is concern for appearing to favor a candidate or be held liable for giving the wrong advice or being misinterpreted, he said.
"If a case comes to a court challenge and ends up in court, that could create problems for the clerk," Dietrich said. "The clerk could be accused of giving a certain candidate more help than another candidate, or it could be the clerk's guidance is misinterpreted by the candidate, who then may blame the clerk for any problems that may arise from the candidacy later."
Dietrich said such issues are in part why state election officials produce a "candidate's guide" for each election meant to spell out the requirements and timelines for each of the elections administered in Illinois, including a receipt of the statement of economic interest.
In state board of elections' 2019 candidates' guide it also provides a warning to residents wishing to run for office: "Candidates are strongly advised to obtain legal counsel regarding their qualifications for office, the proper method for completing the petition forms for a specific office, the minimum and maximum number of signatures required, the qualifications of the signers and circulators, etc."
Demirjian Huss said she did consult with attorneys before filling her paperwork with the city, but she did not know if they had experience in election law.
Barring any changes in the mayor's race, incumbent Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe will appear first on the ballot in the April 2 election, followed by Councilman David Horn and Jacob Jenkins, an employee at the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Accountant Shavon Francis Francis will appear first in the ballot for city council, followed by Retiree Marty Watkins, Taylorville Correctional Center Warden Shelith Hansbro, incumbents Lisa Gregory and Bill Faber, followed by auto garage owner John Phillips, Jr. and Rodney Walker, CEO of SkyWalker International Sports Complex. Councilwoman Dr. Dana Ray opted to step down at the end of her term.