Friday, December 17, 2010

TOP STORY > >Alderman is in limbo over signs

Leader staff writer

Beebe Alderman Les Cossey, who was arrested during the early hours of Election Day in November for stealing his opponent’s campaign signs, remains off the city council pending his appearance in court.

Cossey, charged with theft of property valued at less than $500, was originally scheduled for court on Dec. 9. But late in November, District Judge Teresa Hughes stepped down from the case and Chief Justice Jim Hannah has not yet appointed her replacement.

The charge against Cossey is a misdemeanor and not a felony.

Although Cossey easily won the election to retain his Ward 3 Position 2 seat on the Beebe City Council with 863 votes to Jonathan Gordon’s 427 and James Ringbolt’s 155, it is unclear whether he will be allowed to remain on the council if he is convicted.

Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution together with a recent ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court seem to disqualify him from serving. Article 5 says in part that no person convicted of an infamous crime shall be “capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this state.”

And in October, the Supreme Court ruled that stealing campaign signs constitutes an “infamous crime.”

The high court ruling upheld a ruling by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh, who said in September that Greenwood Mayor Kenneth Edwards, convicted in 2009 of stealing three signs opposing a tax extension that he supported, was ineligible to run for mayor again because he had been convicted of an infamous crime.

The Supreme Court also ordered the election commission not to count any votes cast for Edwards.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Brown wrote in the opinion handed down in October that “Edwards is a public official who perpetrated a theft while in office and who now seeks to be re-elected to the same position of public trust. By his actions he has impugned the integrity of that office. We hold that misdemeanor theft is a crime of dishonesty and, as such, fits readily within the classification of an ‘infamous crime.’”

Cossey has not been available for comment since the arrest, but he said in a press release that he had voluntarily stepped down from the council until the end of the year.

Mayor Mike Robertson said this week that he had no information about the situation other than what Cossey had already given to the press.

Cossey was arrested by the White County Sheriff’s Depart-ment, not by Beebe police. Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew asked the sheriff to handle the case because Cossey is on the council.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s department said when Cossey was arrested, Gordon’s wife was out checking on her husband’s campaign signs and saw Cossey taking them and called the Beebe police.

Cossey was arrested about 4 a.m., three and a half hours before the polls opened.

He was attempting to conceal the signs under his jacket when he was arrested, the spokesman said.

Cossey was taken to the Beebe Police Department, where he paid a $1,000 bond before he was released.