STAY JUST A LITTLE BIT LONGER
Marshall A. Chapman
During the mid 1930s, most of the voters of Dublin wanted Marshall A. Chapman to be their mayor. He was a good man and an outstanding servant of the people. One man disagreed. He didn't like something the mayor did. He employed an attorney and found that the mayor was illegally elected for his second two-year term. So he sued. And, he won. That's when a lot of Marshall Chapman's friends stepped forward and found a way to let him stay, just a little bit longer.
In the early months of 1936, John A. Walden filed a petition of quo warranto in the Superior Court of Laurens County requiring Dublin mayor, Marshall A. Chapman, to show the authority he had to act as mayor. A.L. Hatcher and Henry Taylor, the attorneys representing Walden, claimed that city of Dublin's charter, enacted in 1911, prohibited any person from serving as mayor for more than one term unless additional terms came after an interval out of office.
Dublin Judicial District Judge J.L. Kent recused himself because of his relationship to the petitioner. Judge Kent asked Judge Eschol Graham of the Oconee Judicial Circuit to hear the case against the highly popular mayor. Upon the presentation of all the evidence by Hatcher and Taylor, Chapman's attorney, C.C. Crockett attempted to show that his client was qualified and certified by the city clerk as qualified to be mayor and that in fact, the people of Dublin elected him in 1933 for a two-year term and again in 1935 for a second two-year term.
Judge Graham issued a finding that the law of the state was clear in that the city's charter clearly prohibited any person from serving more than one term as mayor, unless the left office for at least one term, before being eligible to qualify for a second term.
Mayor Chapman refused to comment to the media on the judge's ruling, but directed his attorney to announce that he would immediately appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
After hearing the case, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on October 14, 1936, seventy five years ago this week. In holding for the petitioner, Chief Justice Richard B. Russell, Sr., father of long time U.S. Senator from Georgia, issued the opinion for the court. The Chief Justice discounted Crockett's argument that his client was his own successor since no one else qualified for the 1935 city election.
Crockett reiterated his argument in the trial court that in the previous quarter of a century, that the restriction buried in the city charter had been previously ignored. Herbert Moffett was elected in 1923 and served two consecutive terms. Even Chapman's predecessor, T.C. Keen, held office for two terms from 1930 to 1933. The justices held that argument without merit, holding that the law was the law and variances from it do not constitute a repeal of the city's charter and state law in a unanimous decision.
Chapman's one saving grace was that Judge Graham did not require him to leave office immediately. In fact, Judge Graham's order allowed Chapman to stay in office until a special election could be held.
Crockett immediately filed a motion for a rehearing which the Supreme Court denied in mid-December. Because of the holiday season, no city council meetings were scheduled to be held until early January.
At the first city council meeting of 1937, city attorney, W.W. Larsen, Jr. recommended that the council schedule a special election to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling.
No council member seemed to be ready to call for a special election. If a majority of the council voted to do so, then it would take at least forty-five days before a new election could be held. Still presiding over the council session, Mayor Chapman issued a brief comment. "It is mob psychology to kick a man when he is down," said the mayor.
By then, Chapman was already half way through his second term. No action could be taken any earlier than January 18. Meanwhile, Mayor Chapman went about his duties by appointing council members to committees.
And, it was about that time when Mayor Chapman's friends decided to make an end run around the court's decision. State Representatives W.A. Dampier and W.W. Larsen, Jr. introduced a bill to repeal the clause of the 1911 charter to allow Dublin's mayor to serve two consecutive terms.
Smelling a rat, Walden filed a mandamus to require the city council to call a special election. The council reluctantly decided to discuss the matter on February 1, five days before Judge Graham was to hear Walden's petition. The judge issued a summons to councilmen M.Z. Claxton, Dee Sessions, E.B. Mackey, C.A. Hodges, R.L. Tindol, E.F. Moxley, and F.C. Hutchinson to show cause why they shouldn't be ordered to schedule a new election to replace Mayor Chapman.
Rep. Dampier introduced a bill to allow Mayor Chapman to remain in office until the expiration of his term for which he was elected. The bill expressly prohibited Chapman from qualifying for the special election as well as any candidate from seeking an additional term beyond New Year's Eve. Rep. Larsen initially announced his opposition to Dampier's bill.
Meanwhile, the council was still debating if and how to legally schedule a special election. The issue became moot. For on the 4th of February, two days before Judge Graham was scheduled to hear the petition for a mandamus, the Georgia legislature unanimously passed local legislation to allow Dublin's mayors to succeed themselves for unlimited terms.
Mayor Chapman returned to the mayor's office in 1944 and served a single two-year term, making him the second longest serving mayor until that time, only behind Lucien Quincy Stubbs, who served five two-year terms around the turn of the 20th Century. The tradition of four years as mayor continued until Bobby Cochran, Albert Franks and Bob Walker each served as mayor for eight years. Phil Best, the current mayor, is now the longest serving mayor completing his twelfth year as the Mayor of the Emerald City.