The city of Springfield will determine if a special election is needed to fill its mayor’s position.
The long battle between Springfield City Council and Mayor Jeff Northway appears to be at an end, after Northway submitted his resignation Thursday, effectively immediately.
In a letter from Springfield City Attorney Rick Rafter to Charles Herman, Northway’s attorney, the city sought Northway’s resignation by noon July 13 or it would have filed a declaratory judgment with Superior Court, seeking Northway’s immediate removal. The city began putting together a declaratory judgment petition after learning of Northway’s possible felony convictions in Texas.
"We also demand that he agree not to make any disparaging remarks against the City, its offices, agents, employees or any other individual with the City in regard to this issue," Rafter wrote.
Rafter said the city council was relieved to have the situation resolved.
"It gives the city an opportunity to get back to business," he said. "It gives the city an opportunity to get back to work and get away from the distraction. The council members are happy it’s over and not hanging over their heads."
Rafter said council members and city staff had "always risen above the issue" during the start of the contretemps between the city and its mayor.
"We’ve been able to see the city run well," Rafter said, in spite of the tumult caused by the legalactions.
The city staff is researching what to do in regard to replacing the mayor and if that means a special election will have to be held. Mayor pro tem Jeff Ambrose has presided over nearly every council meeting for the last 11 months.
Northway has not presided over a city council meeting for nearly a year, after Effingham County Superior Court Judge William Woodrum ruled in favor of city council members seeking Northway’s ouster. Judge Woodrum issued his ruling about three weeks after a three-day court proceeding concluded.
But Northway appealed that decision, and state Supreme Court justices overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of the city council members. Since the justices ruled last month in Northway’s favor, Northway had not resumed his seat at city council meetings.
Northway was elected to office in November 2009.
City council members filed an ethics complaint against Northway in October 2010. City council members initially asked Northway to resign in November 2010. When he refused, they petitioned the Superior Court to remove Northway from office under section 45 of the city’s charter.
Records obtained by the Effingham Herald indicate Northway was convicted of felonies in Texas. He was charged with theft by receiving and theft in 1983 over a motorcycle, two clock radios, a vacuum cleaner, a tool box and a flashlight. Northway was charged with receiving the items from someone who had stolen them and received a three-year sentence in the Texas Department of Corrections system after a guilty plea.
He also pled guilty to the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Northway also was sentenced to five years for a 1989 charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. According to Texas state records, he was given a clemency discharge in 1993.
In a letter from attorney Mickey Kicklighter to Herman, Kicklighter congratulated Herman on his successful appeal before the state Supreme Court. But Kicklighter also said the city had discovered Northway "is a three-time convicted felon and has served in prison twice. As a consequence, Mr. Northway was never eligible to run for or serve in the elected office of Mayor. This also makes Mr. Northway ineligible to hold office at this time."
City representatives also called into question the notice of candidacy Northway filed with the city in September 2009. Part of the affidavit says a candidate has not been "convicted and sentenced in any court of competent jurisdiction for fraudulent violation of primary or election laws, malfeasances in office or felony involving moral turpitude or domestic violence."
The notice of candidacy also states that if a candidate has been convicted, that candidate has had his civil rights restored and at least 10 years have elapsed from completion of the sentence, without another conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.
The city prepared a petition for declaratory judgment to have Northway permanently removed from office, and the city pointed out Northway’s 1983 convictions for theft by receiving and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and his 1988 conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. His 1988 conviction, the city was prepared to argue, amounted to a subsequent conviction and should have made him ineligible to be placed on the ballot and elected as mayor.
The city also was prepared to argue that Northway could not become eligible to run for office, even if he had petitioned to have his civil and political rights restored.
Herman responded to the city with a July 9 letter, informing the city of Northway’s intent to resign, if the city agreed to keep the reasons for the resignation confidential. But Rafter issued a response July 12, declaring the city would not sign any nondisclosure agreement about Northway’s criminal past.
In his letter to Herman, Rafter said the information the city received on Northway’s felonies was in the public domain and could be accessed by anyone searching for it.
"This information is also subject to the open records act and will be required to be disclosed upon any properly made request," Rafter said.
Because of Northway’s "potentially criminal action" through his notice of candidacy and perjury during deposition, Rafter added, the city intends to seek full reimbursement of all attorney’s fees in connection with the trial and Supreme Court appeal of the original case.
"If not for him knowingly and fraudulently seeking a political office for which he was ineligible," Rafter wrote, "the City would not have had to bring the initial action for his removal on ethical grounds."