Mayor accused of escorting people into town hall, helping them vote
GLOSTER, MS (WAFB) - It's a small town of about 1,000 people just north of the Louisiana border, tucked away with its southern charm: Gloster, Mississippi. But the quiet, little town of close knit people has a side not discussed in public.
"It's shocking to us if that's something he's done," said Lois Russ, a Gloster resident of 56 years.
The town's mayor of 12 years, Billie Johnson, is accused of helping voters during absentee voting in April.
"Nobody is investigating me on anything," said Mayor Johnson in a town hall meeting a few weeks ago.
Gloster will elect a mayor Tuesday, June 6. Six people are running for the seat, including the current mayor, Johnson, who is hoping for a fourth term.
The 9News Investigators obtained surveillance footage of the Gloster Town Hall. It's dated April 26 at 10:31 a.m. The video shows Mayor Johnson standing next to a woman trying to fill out some paperwork. It looks like the woman asked the town clerk for some information and then the mayor is seen taking the pen and filling out the paperwork. The town clerk then gives the woman what appears to be a ballot. Once again, the mayor takes over. After the mayor finishes, he seals the envelope.
Also seen on that surveillance is Gloster's Asst. Police Chief David Houston, who left as the mayor can reportedly be seen filling out paperwork.
Mississippi law states a candidate, such as Mayor Johnson, cannot help people vote or be present when the person is voting.
Then around 11:08 a.m., still on April 26, the mayor is seen on video escorting another woman into town hall. She too is given a form with the mayor standing right beside her.
"I couldn't believe what I saw when he brought this lady in," said Gloster alderwoman, Fannie Tobias.
"I was sick to my stomach because I didn't realize how blatant... I couldn't even comprehend that people could do this with a camera rolling," said Gloster's mayor pro tem and alderwoman, Betty Ravencraft.
"I just think he's been in this position so long that he has gotten so immune to doing things that's not right and not following the laws," said Tobias.
The 9News Investigators spoke with Asst. Chief Houston.
WAFB's Kiran Chawla: Did you see Mayor Billie Johnson walk in to town hall with people to help them vote?
Asst. Chief Houston: Saw him walk his auntie in there.
The Investigators also spoke to the town clerk seen in the video.
Chawla: Are you the town clerk, ma'am?
Clerk: Yes, I am.
Chawla: Did you see Mayor Billie Johnson come in here?
Clerk: I have no comment, ma'am.
Clerk: Did the Secretary of State's office call you?
The clerk continued to ignore investigators. But Ravencraft says the town clerk told her she did get a call from the Secretary of State.
"I called the town clerk later that afternoon and I said, 'We've had some reports of voter irregularities.' She said, 'I know. The Secretary of State's office has called here. I didn't know the mayor cannot be in the room,'" said Ravencraft.
The 9News Investigators waited on the mayor at town hall. When he was a no show, we went to his home. Although his vehicle was home, no one answered the door. We even tried to call him. He never returned the call. Minutes later, we saw a Gloster police officer pull into the mayor's driveway to keep watch.
However, at a town hall meeting a few weeks ago, Mayor Johnson addressed the allegation, saying he called the Secretary of State's office and reported himself.
"I've never been convicted of it. No investigation. I called the state department, everything. What it is. I brought my auntie, which is 93-years-old. I assist her in everything she does. I brought her down there to register, I mean to vote absentee," said Mayor Johnson at a town hall meeting.
"The mayor is a candidate. He's running for mayor and he knows in these 12 years that he's been serving, he should know the law," said Tobias.
The people of Gloster say they've never dealt with an investigation like this. It's why they reached out to the state for help, but they were told it's the local officials that have to investigate. With the election less than a week away, the people of Gloster feel like they're getting the run around.
"The Secretary of State is over the whole state, you know, the whole county, the whole town, and they're responsible for each and every vote," said Ravencraft.
The Mississippi Secretary of State forwarded the 9News Investigators to the Mississippi Attorney General's office. The AG's office says they could not comment.
"Gloster about helping everybody out," said Russ.
But now, it's the voters who need help before the June 6 election.
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