VALDOSTA -- The two candidates remaining in the race for Valdosta mayor since the death of Mayor James H. Rainwater say there was no need for City Council to seek legal action regarding the Nov. 4 election.

In a press release, candidate John Fretti stated, "the current rulings of the Lowndes County Board of Elections and the Secretary of State's Office should have been adequate as there are two candidates remaining in the race."

Candidate Benny Mitcham is concerned Council's decision is biased -- that if he or Fretti had died, these proceedings would not have happened.

"People are coming to me concerned that this is only happening because of Mayor Rainwater, not because of a person leaving the election. If this was a two-person election, I would understand why. But there are two remaining candidates," Mitcham said.

"I understand that they

are concerned, but I believe that John and I are getting

the run-around."

City Council voted 6-1 in a special meeting Tuesday to seek the declaratory judgment, based on advice from its attorney, George Talley, who said state law doesn't address the death of a candidate on a ballot in a nonpartisan municipal election. The action asks the Superior Court to look at the election law and make clear what must be done if a candidate in a nonpartisan race withdraws due to death. Fretti and Mitcham are named in the legal action.

"They are being named in the suit because they are an interested party in the issues, and we want them to be able to present their side of the case," Talley said. Superior Court Judge Arthur H. McLane will look at the suit, then pass it to a Superior Court judge in another circuit to review.

According to the Secretary of State's office, the Superior Court has the authority to overrule or postpone the election.

"While the City Council deems the laws governing nonpartisan elections to be 'ambiguous' and seeks a judicial 'declaratory' ruling on those laws, both the Lowndes County Board of Elections and the Secretary of State's Office have said the election should go on," Fretti said in his press release.

Talley said that if Mitcham and Fretti do not agree with the ruling to send it to court, it will take 20 days before the case is heard, delaying the election. Talley said that only the mayor's race, not the other council or school board elections, will be affected.

"The actions of the City Council show that many of them are grieving and upset and would feel better if one of their own were given the chance to run for mayor," Fretti said in his press release. "This is only natural as all of us, to some extent, resist change and seek the familiar when shaken or grieving."

To contact reporter Michelle Taylor, please call 229-244-3400, ext. 247

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