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Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

PEARL RIVER, La. - In March, the Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 to allow the town to challenge the residency of any candidate, for any town office. That means incumbents can use town money and resources to try to keep competition out of the race if where the candidate lives, in relation to town limits, is questionable.

Mayor James Lavigne, who is running for his seventh term under a cloud of scrutiny over his management of the town, detailed in a long, scathing legislative auditor's investigative report, says it's something he's taking advantage of.

'Well, it's for the town really,' he said, 'You don't want somebody that don't live in your town running your town.' David McQueen, a longtime alderman who's now running for mayor due to recent criticism of the town, some of which started with a series of Eyewitness reports, voted against a similar attempt last election cycle in 2010, but gave the measure its first 'yes' vote this time around.

He says conversations with constituents changed his mind and sees it as protecting the town, not helping individual campaigns. 'It might look that way, I'm sorry it does, but that ain't why we passed it, I can tell you that,' he said.

The only candidate Lavigne says he's targeting is Clay Harper, who owns three homes, but says his address on Shinglemill Road is where he and his family live primarily. He ran against Lavigne in 2010, when the mayor first attempted a residency challenge against him with town funds. Harper says the recent resolution approval is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

'I think the best protection of the town of Pearl River would be for the mayor to resign,' he said. Candidate Claud Stuckey said in a phone interview, 'That's an individual that needs to champion that cause. It's not the town's place.'

The Secretary of State's Office, which is in charge of elections across Louisiana, is also taking issue with the resolution. Tom Schedler said in a statement, 'As an official who has run for office on numerous occasions and been elected by the people, I find it strange that a government entity could limit voter's options in this manner. The Election Code is clear that a qualified elector is the proper individual to challenge someone's candidacy after qualifying, not a Board of Aldermen.'

It's an issue a judge will have to decide, before voters cast their ballots. The mayor says the town attorney will file the challenge on behalf of the town early next week. He expects the cost to be around $500.

Regarding the allegations made in the legislative auditor's investigation, the District Attorney's Office says it's still considering whether to pursue criminal charges. Lavigne and McQueen say they've been told investigators with the Ethics Board will be starting their own investigation into the report's findings soon.

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