A disagreement about one candidate's residency status is turning into a more formal dispute in the contest for Chattanooga's District 5 City Council seat.
Last week, candidate and Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chair Dennis Clark challenged whether his opponent, nonprofit outreach Coordinator LaDarius Price, even lives in Chattanooga, nevermind the council district in question.
Now, Clark and his campaign have hired an attorney to file a written complaint with the Hamilton County Election Commission.
"Mr. Price quotes himself as a 'District 5 lifer,' but we have proof he doesn't live in the community at all, and actually lives outside of the city. All I've seen is his ability to make up false accusations of Mr. Clark and threaten to hurt him. We do not take threats kindly, and are taking the utmost care in maintaining the well-being of Mr. Clark," campaign manager Jacob Strawbridge said.
"As for the entirety of the campaign, we are focused on running a fair, clean election with policies that we believe will help all Chattanoogans, but especially our neighbors in District 5. We just want to ensure the integrity of this election is respected and hold accountable those running for public office."
The Clark campaign plans to file a written complaint with the election commission on Wednesday morning, prompting a hearing by the commission and elections coordinator before ballots are finalized on Jan. 13.
"We, Citizens to Elect Dennis Clark, have exponential amounts of factual evidence proving that Mr. LaDarius Price, City Council District 5's candidate, will not have lived in District 5 for a year at the time of the election, and is therefore ineligible to run under the city charter," Bella Eaton, a spokesperson for the Clark campaign, wrote in an email late Tuesday, adding that the campaign had asked Price directly to forfeit the race.
"In order to preserve the integrity of this election, it is our lawful and civic duty to bring to light this apparent attempt by Mr. Price to fraudulently qualify for office. We have privately asked Mr. Price to do the right thing for this community and step down from the race, but to no avail. After threats on our candidate, and no acknowledgment of the evidence presented, we have begun the process of filing an official complaint with the Hamilton County Election Commission, as well as the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office to further review these matters."
Price told the Times Free Press last week that he believed Clark was stalking him, and said, "I'll end up hurting him. That's the place he's getting to."
A spokesperson for the secretary of state confirmed receipt of a complaint Monday but said the office has not yet been able to research allegations against Price.
When the complaints surfaced late last week, Price and Clark were the only two candidates qualified to run for the seat in question, which is being vacated by current council member and mayoral candidate Russell Gilbert. Since then, four other candidates — Isaiah Hester, Alan Holman, Leanne Jones and Cynthia Stanley-Cash — have qualified to run.
The Times Free Press reached out to all four new candidates by phone Tuesday, but only reached Jones, who said she is disappointed in both Price and Clark's campaigns.
"I'm disappointed in the campaigns that both LaDarius and Dennis are running, so far. Though I would be open to officials looking into the legitimacy of both potential candidates' campaigns, including each of their financials, this has nothing to do with the issues that District 5 is facing," she said in a written statement. "I hope we can move past this quickly so we can get back to debating what will actually help people in our District, COVID-19 relief, small-business development and opportunities, and YFD [Youth and Family Development]."
When asked for clarification on Jones' remarks about her opponents' finances, a spokesperson provided the following statment.
"To clarify, both of the candidates have qualified in their initial financial disclosures, however, we trust our election commission to do a thorough job of reviewing their track record as we continue to campaign for a better District 5," spokesperson Micah Chapman wrote.
In response, Clark's campaign criticized opponents for staying silent on Price's qualifications.
"In recent days, multiple candidates have qualified for the election, yet remain silent regarding the residency matter first unveiled in the Chattanooga Times Free Press," Eaton wrote. "Citizens to Elect Dennis Clark challenge those opponents to help the community maintain the integrity of this election, do what is in the best interest of our District 5 neighbors and uphold the decency and ethics of this election process."
The issues with Price's residence center on a provision in the city's charter which requires a candidate to have lived in the district in question for one year prior to the election date, which would mean on or before March 2, 2020.
But Robert Coleman, the homeowner of the Woodmore address where Price says he lives, told the Times Free Press last week that Price began renting from him 6-7 months ago. Documents provided by Price to the election commission have varying dates.
After a verbal complaint was lodged with the Election Commission last week, Price was asked to submit documentation to prove his residence at the Woodmore address.
The documents he provided, obtained later by the Times Free Press, include a driver's license issued in September 2020, a water bill issued in November 2020 — which shows a 13-day billing period, beginning in October 2020 with no prior billing amount — and an unnotarized lease dated October 2019.
Meanwhile, the homeowner of an Ooltewah address (outside Chattanooga) where Price has posted photographs of himself and his family many times told the Times Free Press last week that Price occupies the home and has occupied it for two years. Price denied any association with the home last week.
Price did not return phone calls for comment on Monday and Tuesday.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.