Candidate’s residency challenged in mayor race

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • A Raeford City Council member filed a challenge last Thursday against a candidate running for the city mayor’s office, questioning whether he meets one of the requirements to seek election.

Council member Wayne Willis filed a challenge July 29 against Raeford mayoral candidate Chris Parker, who announced his campaign for the office last month.

“The challenge is a question to his residency,” Hoke County Board of Elections Director Towanna Dixon wrote in an email.

Parker filed to run against incumbent Raeford Mayor John K. McNeill, who is seeking his fifth four-year term in office this year in the municipal elections.

Parker said Monday that he plans to respond to the challenge.

“Absolutely, without question I meet the requirements,” he said.

His legal address is in Raeford, but his wife and children live elsewhere in Hoke County, Parker said.

When Parker filed with the Board of Elections to run for mayor, he provided the address of 418 West Sixth Avenue in Raeford. That address is the location of a building owned by Abundant Life Ministries, according to the Hoke County tax office map system.

Parker is the senior pastor of Abundant Life Ministries. Sixteen years ago, he purchased the church chapel from Raeford Evangelical Methodist Church. He later renovated the building across the street at 418 West Sixth Avenue, turning it into the church’s parsonage, he said.

To answer the challenge, Parker will have to attend a hearing and provide evidence to prove he meets the residency requirements. The hearing is set for 1 p.m. Thursday in the Pratt Building on Main Street in Raeford.

“Once challenged, the burden is on the candidate to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is qualified to be a candidate for the office,” Dixon wrote in an email. “If the challenge is based upon a question of residency, the candidate must show all of the following: 1. An actual abandonment of the first domicile, coupled with an intent not to return to the first domicile; 2. The acquisition of a new domicile by actual residence at another place; and 3. The intent of making the newer domicile a permanent domicile.”

The Hoke Board of Elections held a special meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the challenge and set the date and time for the hearing.

At the hearing the panel can receive evidence from any person with information concerning the subject of the challenge, and can consider evidence such as affidavits, supporting documents or witness testimony. The board chairperson or any two members of the panel can choose to issue subpoenas for witnesses or documents. Each witness has to be placed under oath before testifying, according to the hearing procedures.

After the hearing, the panel shall “render a written decision within 20 business days after the challenge is filed and serve that written decision on the parties.”

Parker called the residency challenge a “frivolous attempt” to disqualify him from seeking office.

“It is my intention to run a fair, honest race. There’s nothing nefarious about my address and I really want to make that clear,” he said. “That when I initially moved to Hoke County so that I could eventually run for office, when I spoke with the North Carolina State Board Of Elections, our local Board of Elections, I did everything they told me to do to make sure that I was legal to run for this office, prior to me submitting my paperwork to run for the office of mayor of Raeford.”

Willis, an incumbent member of the city council, is seeking reelection unopposed in the 2021 municipal election. Fellow incumbent council member Charles Allen is also running unopposed for Raeford City Council. The city offices up for election, both mayor and council, are nonpartisan.

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