Incumbent disqualified in Duchesne City Council race

Published: Monday, Nov. 4 2013 2:10 p.m. MST

A campaign sign for Duchesne City Councilman Rodney Rowley lies in the grass in front of Duchesne High School, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Rowley filed court papers seeking to keep his name on the ballot for the Nov. 5, 2013, general election after he was disqualified for failing to file a campaign finance disclosure statement before the Oct. 29, 2013, deadline. A judge denied the request on procedural grounds.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

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DUCHESNE — He was the top vote-getter in August's primary election for two seats on the Duchesne City Council, but Rodney Rowley's name won't appear on the ballot when voters head to the polls Tuesday.

Rowley, an incumbent seeking re-election to the council, has been disqualified from the race after he failed to submit a campaign finance disclosure statement by the Oct. 29 deadline.

In court papers filed late Friday, Rowley alleges that his disqualification by Duchesne city recorder Diane Miller violated his due process rights. He asked a judge to prevent Miller from removing his name from the ballot until he could have "a meaningful opportunity to be heard."

Rowley's attorney, Corbin Gordon, claims an Oct. 15 letter from Miller spelling out the requirements and deadlines for filing campaign finance disclosures was "inadequate in the face of Mr. Rowley's protected fundamental right to run for political office."

The letter, which was sent out to all four Duchesne City Council candidates, stated that all votes cast for a candidate would not be counted if the candidate failed to submit a signed campaign finance statement to Miller before Oct. 29.

A second campaign finance statement was due within 30 days after the general election, but no later than Dec. 5, the letter said.

After reading the letter, Rowley "thought that the financial disclosures had to be turned in within 30 days after the election," according to Gordon, who noted that Rowley hasn't collected any financial contributions or spent any money during his candidacy.

Miller phoned Rowley on Oct. 30 to inform him that he had been disqualified from the election. Court papers show he filed a campaign finance statement with her at 4:15 p.m. that day — 23 hours and 15 minutes after the deadline had passed.

"To deny Mr. Rowley, the top performer in the primary election, the chance to be on the ballot because his financial disclosures were less than 24 hours late will end his political career in a dramatic and unfair fashion," Gordon wrote, arguing that his client's name should remain on the ballot, pending a judicial review of his disqualification.

The courts have ruled in the past, however, that election officials have no discretion when it comes to disqualifying candidates who fail to submit campaign finance reports before the pre-Election Day deadline, according to state elections director Mark Thomas.

"The statute calls for strict compliance when it comes to financial disclosures," Thomas said.

Rowley wasn't the only Duchesne City Council candidate who failed to file a campaign finance statement on time. Candidate Danny Peatross, the third-place finisher in primary voting, also missed the deadline and was disqualified.

Thomas said his office has received a complaint from at least one Duchesne city voter about the disqualifications. The caller was upset because she had already cast her ballot for one of the now-disqualified candidates during early voting, he said.

"It is a difficult situation," Thomas said, noting that because ballots are secret, there's "no practical way" to change a vote once it has been cast.

"(Early voting) is a convenience," he said, "but the trade-off is that there's a potential for something like this happening in the lead up to Election Day."

On Monday, 8th District Judge Sam Chiara denied Rowley's bid to keep his name on the ballot. He based his ruling on procedural grounds only, finding that Miller had not been properly served with notice of Rowley's request for an preliminary injunction.

Neither Rowley nor his attorney responded to messages Monday from the Deseret News seeking comment on whether they intend to challenge Chiara's ruling.

Incumbent Carol Thomas and former Duchesne City Councilwoman Jeannie Mecham are the only candidates whose names will appear on the ballot Tuesday for two seats on the council.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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