Case represents some issues Ashcroft wants to address as secretary of state
DIXON, Mo. – Secretary of state candidate Jay Ashcroft has joined the city of Dixon in their attempt to prevent Michael Plummer from being seated for a second term as city marshal in a case he said demonstrates some of the issues on which he is running for office.
Plummer, who as marshal, serves as the city’s top law enforcement official, was indicted on 15 charges — 10 felonies and 5 misdemeanors — last year and had his peace officer’s license suspended. But the license was suspended the day after Plummer filed for reelection, making him eligible to run. Under the law, however, it would be illegal for the city to seat a second-term marshal without the license.
”The city of Dixon was in a little bit of a bind, because the law is clear in that they are not supposed to swear this individual in or anyone that swears him in would be guilty of a crime.” Ashcroft said. “At the same time, they are saying, ‘But he was elected by the people.’ So they asked me to come in and help them to navigate this process to make sure that the city was protected and that it didn’t do anything wrong but also that the election laws were followed.”
Mayor Shawn Wethington said he’s been anticipating this issue since before the election. He was in contact with Ashcroft and his father John on election night, gauging possible scenarios.
“We want to do what is right by the letter of the law,” he said. But the city was also concerned about making anyone guilty of a crime by swearing Plummer in. Wethington also said the city will respect whatever the court decides, whether that means swearing Plummer in or not.
Ashcroft, an attorney and engineer, said the issues in Dixon are emblematic of an issue he’s noticed across the state — unqualified candidates for office being elected.
“It points to a broader issue that there are a lot of gaps in Missouri election law with regard to who is responsible for making sure that individuals who run are qualified,” he said. “Their qualifications for different offices and who’s responsible for the enforcing those and investigating that, is something that really isn’t mentioned in the law, especially when you are dealing with non-partisan races. There’s a lot of election law that needs to be looked at again to make sure that we don’t have gaps in the law and it’s clear who is responsible for what and when.”
Ashcroft cited incidents of a city treasurer being elected who didn’t live in the city and a school board member who was elected and didn’t meet the qualifications for the office. He’s concerned that ultimately, these issues leading to office holders being appointed instead of elected, like they’re meant to be filled.
“The people don’t actually get their will done because they don’t get to elect the next school board member,” he said. “That school board member is appointed by the board and that’s how it works. But if they would catch this at the beginning or had an individual who was responsible for making sure that the law was clear and that they had the authority to do it in the election in the first place, then it would actually be the people electing a school board member.”
Ashcroft cited these issues as something the secretary of state should be responsible for handling, and something he would work to fix in that position.
“I think it shows how important it is to have individuals that are qualified and know the law to help local election authorities,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Secretary of State has not been helpful in these instances. The office says, ‘That’s not our job.’ You’re the chief election authority, you should be helping local authorities to run elections and you should be taking a role in what legislation is passed and making sure that it works correctly.’
He said that as secretary of state, he would work with the legislature to help clear up some of the gaps in election law that allow unqualified individuals to take office.
Wethington also said he sees the need for a clarification of election law.
“Not only do the qualifications of office need to be clearer, but the correlating state law that goes with it needs to be clear,” he said. “I think it needs to be a little more filled out and not leave so much gray area.”
But none of those changes would help Dixon now, which is why they brought in Ashcroft this year. He’s helping them navigate the court system while they ask the court for guidance.
“What they needed was the declaratory judgement from the court to protect the city by saying he does not have a peace officer’s license, he is not qualified to assume the position of marshal and therefore he will not be sworn in and the city will use someone else to fill the role until there’s another election or until they decide to make that an appointed position,” he said. “He’s not qualified to be seated and the city of DIxon did not want to seat him but they also did not want to do anything that would be inappropriate so they wanted the court to tell them how to deal with it.”
Wethington is hoping to lead the community through the waters. Thursday was the National Day of Prayer and Wethington said he was joined by ten local churches to pray for the local government and officials. But the city also prayed for unity and “an opportunity to bring healing back to the community.”