City of Conyers has spent nearly $10k in Ware election case

CONYERS — The city of Conyers has spent more in legal fees in its efforts to verify and challenge a former mayoral candidate’s qualification than it has budgeted for the 2013 election.

According to Conyers Chief Operating Officer David Spann, between Aug. 30 and Wednesday, the city spent approximately $9,554.98 to verify and challenge Olivia Ware’s candidacy to run for mayor and later to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by Ware.

Conyers has budgeted $9,000 to contract with Rockdale County to administer the 2013 municipal election.

Spann said the nearly $10,000 — which does not account for the time city staff spent on the matter — will come from the city’s general fund for legal services. Conyers budgeted around $150,000 for legal expenses in 2013-14, the same as it had budgeted last year.

City Manager Tony Lucas said that the city council will review the budget in January and make any adjustment necessary at that midyear point.

Ware qualified on Aug. 30 to run for mayor in the Nov. 5 General Municipal Election. In her Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit, Ware listed her address as being 213 Peaks Landing in Conyers. She also stated that she had lived in Rockdale County for two consecutive years and in the city of Conyers for one year.

However, when Rockdale County Elections Supervisor Cynthia Welch compared the qualification forms of the six municipal candidates — four mayoral candidates and two city council candidates — with their voter registrations to ensure they lived and were registered to vote in Conyers, she noticed a discrepancy.

Based on voter registration records and voting history, Ware listed residing at addresses in both unincorporated Rockdale County and in Newton County within the last year. She also has voted several times in Newton County, including in the 2012 General Election, and has claimed Homestead Exemption for her residence on Mt. Zion Road in Oxford.

On Sept. 9, City Attorney Michael Waldrop sent a certified letter to Ware at all three addresses notifying her that her candidacy was in question and asked her to withdraw by Sept. 12

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, after not withdrawing her candidacy, Patricia Smith, the city’s election superintendent, sent to Ware — at her Rockdale County address, her city of Conyers address and her Newton County address — a certified letter notifying her that Smith will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. Sept. 20 to determine whether she is legally qualified to run for the office of mayor in the Nov. 5 election.

Neither Ware nor any representative for Ware appeared at the Sept. 20 hearing.

Ware, however, has claimed she did not receive proper notice of the Sept. 20 administrative hearing. In her Sept. 24 lawsuit against the city, Ware, who is representing herself, requested a jury trial and that she be awarded attorney’s fees and punitive and compensatory damages for fraud and emotional distress.

In its answer, the city defended the many steps it took to contact Ware, including attempting to hand-deliver the notice of the hearing at the time and place Ware herself requested.

The city had also filed a counterclaim against Ware requesting that Ware be made to reimburse Conyers for attorneys fees and costs associated with her candidacy and ensuing lawsuit.

On Sept. 27, Waldrop sent Ware a letter formally asking her to dismiss her lawsuit against the city. If she refused, Waldrop said the city would seek damages, costs and attorneys fees under the state’s abusive litigation statute. If, however, Ware should dismiss her complaint, the city would likewise dismiss its counterclaim against her.

Ware did dismiss her lawsuit and withdrew her candidacy on Sept. 30, issuing an apology for any inconvenience her actions have caused Conyers.