In a suit filed Sept. 15 in Calhoun County Circuit Court, he asserts that the Calhoun County Board of Registrars violated his constitutional rights because it did not give him a hearing before changing his voting address. Early this month, the board notified Bearden of the address change after it ruled he lives at his Anniston farm, instead of the Weaver residence he claims as his primary residence.
“Their effort and goal was to move my eligibility to serve as mayor,” Bearden said.
The board contends that it followed procedure in conducting the investigation, which was prompted by an inquiry from an individual resident.
Bearden is asking for a judge and jury to make a ruling that would overturn the board’s decision and award him money for legal expenses and damages. If the decision isn’t overturned, it could affect Bearden’s ability to run for mayor in the future. Elected municipal officials are prohibited by Alabama law from serving in a city they do not live in.
The dispute over his residence first came into question preceding the mayoral election in 2008. It was raised again early this year, and has since drawn attention at public city meetings. Bearden, a candidate for House District 36, suspects that the timing of the renewed questioning is politically motivated.
“The intent of Bearden’s political opponents is to embarrass him by removing him from office,” the suit states.
However, others state the allegation stems from his declaration of candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the District 36 state House seat. In January 2010, Bearden reportedly filed and signed a document stating his declaration using the Weaver Road address in Anniston.
Days after receiving notification of the address change, his attorney, Gene Rutledge, filed a federal suit and requested a restraining order in federal court on Bearden’s behalf. He withdrew the federal suit after a judge ruled that the address change, in and of itself, could not remove Bearden from office. That ruling also stated that further action would be needed before Bearden could be stripped of the ability to serve as mayor.
On Sept. 15, Bearden sent a letter to the Board of Registrars stating that the board should change his address back to the 1200 Ridge Drive residence in Weaver that he originally registered to vote under. Bearden says he spends time at the Weaver Road residence, but that his legal home is at 1200 Ridge Drive, which is has been, he said, since he purchased his home there in 1977. Bearden said he also has two businesses in Weaver and raised his family there.
“I am as much a part of Weaver as anybody is a part of Weaver, maybe a little more so because I don’t just come to Weaver and sit down,” he said. “I choose to give of myself.”
He states that his domicile, which is the legal term used for a primary residence, is in Weaver and has been for more than 30 years. According to Alabama law a domicile can’t be lost or acquired by a temporary absence.
“Am I going to be in Montgomery? Am I going to be in Weaver? Am I going to be on the hobby farm two years from now?” Bearden said. “I don’t know.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.