A lawsuit was filed on Wednesday morning by the city of DeRidder in the 36th Judicial District Court against one of its most recently elected council members.
The suit challenges the eligibility of DeRidder councilman-elect Michael Dwayne Harris due to the location of his residence.
Harris told the Beauregard Daily News that the suit was not filed by the City in general, but specifically by Mayor Ron Roberts.
When he decided to run for councilman-at-large, Harris documented his domicile address as 816 Lake Court Dr. in DeRidder.
He filed a permanent homestead exemption application on Jan. 16, 2017.
The suit states that Harris has been living in West Beauregard Parish since 2015. This is due to his alleged mailing address at his second home located at 386 Harmony Dr., DeRidder. This residence is technically outside city limits.
It is required that candidates must have resided for at least one year at the registered domicile within the city limits.
Harris is baffled by this suit, particularly due to its timing. “I have absolutely no idea why this is happening after the qualifications, after early voting, after the primary, after early voting for the runoff and after the runoff election,” Harris said. “The people have made their decision which has been ratified by the Secretary of State. And this is when Mayor Ron Roberts is bringing this kind of suit?”
Harris claims that all council members and candidates were made aware of his living situation – he has two residences, he said. “I purchased this home (at 816 Lake Court Dr., DeRidder) in 2002 or 2003, and I live there.”
Harris built a second home in 2015 in the country at 386 Harmony Dr., DeRidder – this is outside city limits, regardless of the DeRidder address. “I have never given up residency at 816,” Harris said. “The Mayor is aware of all of this.”
Roberts, however, has a different perspective. “I pointed out to Mr. Harris in my office four months before he qualified to run that, in my opinion, he was not qualified. His response to me was ‘I have an attorney in New Orleans that says I am qualified.’”
Beyond this comment, Roberts said, “Everything I have to say about the situation is clearly stated in the petition to the court.”
Harris questioned why an outgoing mayor would take this action. “Why would he leave our city to deal with this residue?”
According to Harris, there was a meeting on Tuesday, including current and incoming council members, at which Roberts announced that he would be filing a suit against Harris.
Harris noted that DeRidder Councilwomen Faith Buckley Scott, Kimaron Moore and Estella Scott were absent from this meeting for various personal reasons. “The only two African Americans who were there were the newly elected “Pee-Wee” and myself,” Harris said. “I got up, walked out, prayed and came back because I owe the people – for them I can take it. If I can take the heat in Iraq, I can take it for them.”
An official hearing at the Beauregard Parish Courthouse has not yet been established.
If the outcome shows Harris does not maintain domicile within city limits, he could be forced to vacate the position and a new election would be held on his dime.
If the outcome is in his favor, Harris will be sworn into office as councilman-at-large on July 1.
He intends to fight the lawsuit, and possibly file a counter suit.
In a statement Harris provided to The Beauregard Daily News, he wrote, “At this time I will continue to focus on my city and the issues I addressed during my candidacy. I am the newly elected councilman-at-large for our great city.”
He outlined his goals as councilman-at-large including improving the local economy, infrastructure, and better environments for children and seniors.
“These are my focus and my attorney will focus on this lawsuit as well as a possible counter lawsuit,” Harris stated. “It does sadden me that after the primary and runoff our mayor's office will subject our city with this.”
Harris won the runoff election for the councilman-at-large position in April alongside incumbent Vince Labue.
Harris expects members of the community to turn up at Monday’s DeRidder Council Meeting at 5 in hopes of conveying their support for him.