Bauxite Mayor Johnny McMahan soon will hit the campaign trail as his name will appear on the November ballot two and a half years earlier than expected.
Resident and former Alderman Debbie Purifoy successfully led a petition drive to recall the mayor after collecting more than 100 signatures in Bauxite.
On Wednesday, Saline County Election Coordinator Linda Montalvo told The Saline Courier, "the signatures have been verified. It is a good petition."
This means that in November, Bauxite residents will vote on whether to keep McMahan as mayor. If McMahan is defeated, the city council will name an interim mayor to finish his term.
"I believe Debbie has a personal vendetta against me and this is a way for her to take her frustrations out on me," McMahan told the Courier. "She is used to a 'Ma and Pa' type of administration that has been the past of Bauxite (government). (Purifoy) doesn't have power anymore and this keeps her busy to stop progress in Bauxite."
He added, "It is sad because she could use all this energy for something positive instead of tearing Bauxite down. Bauxite has a past of keeping things secret, sweeping things under the rug. I inherited a lot of problems and I would rather spend my energy continuing to correct our problems."
As of press time, Purifoy had not returned messages left by Courier reporters.
Purifoy and McMahan have a history of personal issues against each other, which has been documented in council meetings, campaign material and in Courier stories. Shortly after her arrest on Sept. 11, 2010 — for resisting arrest, filing a false police report, failure to obey police commands, obstructing government operations and disorderly conduct — Purifoy had a letter appear in the Letter To the Editor section of the Courier (Oct. 25, 2010). In that missive, she wrote, "Johnny McMahan and (Alderman) Allison Cain were swift to judge me before checking out all the facts regarding this case. I cringe knowing that is the type of leadership they want to bring to Bauxite. As for those two, who claim to be Christians, they show a poor example of the lifestyle. Apparently you weren’t aware I have family and friends in town when you all went out campaigning."
In the same letter, she said of the officer who arrested her, "I believe one of our officers is an overweight and psychologically unfit relative of the chief. Either I am the toughest nanny in all Bauxite or (Officer Michael) Turner is a super- sized cream puff … He was so exhausted a monkey could have knocked him over. I thought for a split second he might have a stroke or heart attack, then I would be faced with having to make a moral decision whether to help him or not."
A charge of felony assault of a police officer later was dropped, and Saline County District Judge Curtis Rickard found Purifoy guilty of resisting arrest and obstructing government operations on Feb. 8, 2011. Purifoy then appealed that decision to Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips, who ruled that Purifoy was guilty of resisting arrest but acquitted Purifoy on the charge of obstructing a government operation. Turner is now an officer for the Bryant Police Department.
On Nov. 2, 2010, McMahan was elected as mayor of Bauxite by 57 percent of the 210 total votes. After dealing with a horde of problems that unsurfaced as he entered office — including finding numerous unopened letters from the Internal Revenue Service that ultimately led to the town owing nearly $40,000 in back taxes — Aldermen Adam Kampbell, Guy Hendrix and Paula Matthews unsuccessfully attempted multiple times to appoint Purifoy to the vacant position of court clerk/recorder/treasurer position.
It was during that time that McMahan mailed Bauxite residents a postcard with Purifoy's arrest mug shot plastered on it. On the reverse side was a commentary from McMahan that begins, "Do you want the person on the front side of this card to be the 'face' of Bauxite? Not me."
Purifoy told the Courier that McMahan used the postcard as a "vendetta" because "I was supporting Ronnie Ramsey for mayor instead of him." She went on to say that McMahan's actions were uncalled for and that "he should have more respect for the city."
Purifoy also told the Courier in January of 2011, during questions about the postcard, that she did start circulating petitions to recall McMahan.
"The gloves are coming off and I'm putting on my Wonder Woman underwear," she said.
McMahan responded that he used the direct mail campaign as a way to get his point of view out to the residents of Bauxite and claims no city funds were used.
"I probably have $150-$175 of my own funds invested in this project. My daughter and wife helped me stamp the cards. I have sent out approximately 250-275 cards, with not all persons receiving one. I did not send one to Debbie Purifoy or Ronnie Ramsey and their relatives."
McMahan also noted, "As a side note, I want to make sure the citizens of Bauxite know that Guy Hendrix, Adam Kampbell and Paula Matthews are aligned with Purifoy and are stifling progress in Bauxite by trying to force her into the treasurer's job, and when that didn't work, they tried trickery at the last council meeting and I presume they have something up their sleeve for the next council meeting."
The "trickery" issue first arose after the Nov. 21, 2011, council meeting in which the mayor vetoed a 3-2 vote that would have made Purifoy the court clerk/recorder/treasurer position. McMahan then explained that it takes four votes from the council to overturn his veto.
At the next council meeting in which Alderman Cain was absent, Alderman Guy Hendrix moved to sustain the mayor's veto of Purifoy. Hendrix then voted "no" on the motion, along with Matthews and Kampbell, leaving Sweat as the lone "yes" vote.
"(Hendrix, Kampbell and Matthews) thought that Cain's absence would be an automatic 'no' vote and that with a 4-1 vote, they could override the veto and put Purifoy into the vacant position, but that did not happen," McMahan said. "I spoke with an attorney at the Municipal League and was told Cain's vote should have been listed as 'absent' and not as an automatic 'no' vote, which does not override the veto."
Cain also told the Courier today that if she could have made it back to Bauxite in time to vote on the matter, she would have voted in favor of approving the mayor's veto.
"I was shocked that (the alderman) would do that knowing how I feel about the situation with Mrs. Purifoy," Cain said. "I think the alderman took advantage of my absence and they know I am not in favor of appointing her. I am not sure why some alderman want her (Purifoy) in that position so desperately when the people voted her out of office in the first place."
Cain's husband, Tim, also said that it was "one of the most underhanded, unethical and undemocratic, sneaky maneuvers I have every seen by any body of government."
"I think it is strange they way (Hendrix, Kampbell and Matthews) went about the motion, and then for Hendrix to oddly vote against his own motion," the mayor said. "I think it was all set up by Purifoy in my opinion, especially when I saw her whispering to him before the meeting began."
Kampbell told the Courier he "didn't have time to comment" and neither Hendrix nor Matthews answered calls seeking comments for the Courier.
At a Jan. 24 Bauxite council meeting, Purifoy called the mayor "a pathetic little man," and "a snotty-nosed brat," and said he used the postcard tactic as a form of harassment and to "bully people."
"Mrs. Purifoy is not going to be in this position as long as I am mayor," McMahan said. "I don't feel that she is fit and proper to serve in it and I want someone that will be more professional."
It was also during that meeting that Purifoy told Alderman Elizabeth Sweat to "be careful ... someone may drop a house on you," which eventually led to a letter from the office of the Saline County Prosecuting Attorney warning Purifoy to not speak to Sweat.
On Wednesday, McMahan said that Purifoy's "life is high drama" and said that after her arrest in 2010 she lost her job.
"She is having a hard time and is blaming me somehow," he said. "I wasn't mayor then, but I think she has a lot of time on her hands and this is a way for her to stop progress in Bauxite."
Purifoy told a Little Rock TV news station that the mayor's handling of the IRS proves to her that "McMahan doesn't know what he's doing" even though the unopened letters from the IRS and back taxes is due to the previous administration. She also admitted to the TV station that the postcard is a motivation for the petition to recall the mayor.
McMahan, however, said Purifoy turned up the heat as soon as he became aware of the IRS issues. He said investigation is continuing into who is responsible for the more than 10 unopened letters from the IRS that were found in a closet and for the money owed.
"I think (Purifoy) wants to close public doors on closets with possible skeletons inside and if she stops me, she can stop those skeletons from coming out," McMahan said. "Purifoy and her gang have schemed for a long time now to throw me out of office and get her power back and things can go back to the way it used to be. This might have something to do with the IRS issues. Maybe people are afraid this issue may (personally) touch them."
He added, "I'm going to start sending out campaign material and go out and talk to people. Being a mayor of Bauxite is difficult with only part-time staff, no sales tax, there are a lot of problems and there's a group of people who don't want things corrected. I became mayor to help Bauxite, but if I am no longer mayor, I'll go on and have a good life. I have things I could do; I'm about to turn 62 and I've already thought about retirement. But I'm going to campaign and I expect a lively election."