By Charles Sercombe
Attention city council candidates: Make sure you are up to date on your property taxes and water bills by election day.
That’s part of the message that attorneys for the Miller Law Firm offered in a 10-page legal opinion regarding whether Councilmember Saad Almasmari is a “defaulter” to the city.
The matter came up when council candidate Carrie Beth Lasley filed a complaint with the city over Almasmari falling behind on property taxes and water bills.
She insisted that Almasmari, who is up for re-election, should be removed from the August Primary Election ballot, and also that criminal charges should be considered.
According to the law firm attorneys who were hired by the city to look into the issue, an elected official can only be considered a defaulter on election day, when the ballots are counted.
The city charter’s wording on what constitutes a defaulter has been open to wide interpretation.
City Charter section 6-08 says:
“No person shall be elected or appointed to any office who is a defaulter to the City or to any board, or office, or department thereof, or to any school district, county, or other municipal corporation of the State, now or heretofore existing. All votes for the election or appointment of any such defaulter shall be void.”
According to the legal opinion, that section means:
“… It is our position that the challenge brought before this city is not ripe until after the votes have been counted at the time of the election.”
The attorneys from Miller Law Firm who researched the matter are Angela L. Baldwin and Melvin Butch Hollowell.
This is the second time Lasley has filed a complaint against a city councilmember for being in default. Her first complaint was also dismissed.
Asked if she had a comment on the latest opinion, Lasley simply said: “No.”
Almasmari previously told The Review he freely admits to having personal financial problems. He has often fallen behind on tax and water bills during his term in office.
Almasmari, a Yemeni-American, said there are other motives behind Lasley’s complaint:
“What’s behind this is racism, and me opposing marijuana,” Almasmari said.
Lasley is in favor of allowing marijuana grow facilities to operate in the city, but only in industrial areas that are away from the neighborhoods.
She is, however, against allowing dispensaries to operate here.
Almasmari is opposed to both grow facilities and dispensaries.
Former city councilmember Scott Klein, who also served on the city’s Charter Revision Commission in 2002-03, said he was opposed to the defaulter charter section.
“Time and time, candidates have wagged their finger at other candidates to point out the deadbeat,” Klein said.
“This is fair game in a campaign. But time after time, over, at least the last 30 years, voters are not interested in the issue. This provision seeks to undo the informed choice of the voter, and those who wrote and then use the provision are undemocratic.”
He also said the inclusion of the section was politically motivated.
“The provision was meant to deal directly with political opponents of some charter commission members who had been, at times, in debt to the city or county,” Klein said.
June 7, 2019