WILLIAMSON COUNTY -- The chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party filed a challenge on Monday to a GOP candidate who filed petitions to run for a seat on the county board, charging that the candidate didn't get enough signatures to qualify and that his residency in Illinois is questionable.
GOP Chairman Jeff Diederich, who filed a 150-page challenge to the candidacy of Andrew Purcell, said Monday that Purcell is a sitting member of the city council in Bridgeton, Missouri, which calls into question where he really lives.
According to the Williamson County voter registration, Purcell registered to vote in Illinois on Nov 5, 2021. Attempts to reach Purcell via cellphone as well as the phone number listed for him on the Bridgeton website were unsuccessful.
Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs, reached on Monday afternoon, confirmed that Purcell has been an active city council member in Bridgeton, and said he had no idea Purcell was not maintaining his city residency requirement.
"This is pretty bizarre," he said.
"I'm a little surprised," the mayor added. "He never asked to relinquish his office."
Briggs was firm on the question of residency.
"To be a council member in Bridgeton, you're supposed to live here," he said. "If you move, you're supposed to inform us."
Briggs said that when Purcell registered to vote in Williamson County at that point he "technically forfeited" his Bridgeton council seat.
According to Briggs, Purcell's term on the council expires after the April 5 municipal election in Bridgeton. Purcell did not file to run for reelection, Briggs said.
"He told me he forgot to file," the mayor said, noting that the city now doesn't have enough candidates to fill all the seats on the council, and they are looking for a write-in candidate to step up.
Briggs said city officials could ask for Purcell to forfeit his position, but "in reality, we're done with meetings."
However, Briggs said if a special meeting is called before the Apr. 5 election, he will not allow Purcell to participate.
Briggs said that Purcell's attendance had been sporadic.
"I tried to get hold of him at various times to see why we wasn't attending our meetings," he said. "He said once that he was ill and another time he had to go to a funeral."
Briggs said that Purcell was first appointed to the council to fill a seat vacated by a member that became too ill to complete her term. He then ran unopposed.
He expressed his frustration with what he called a "lack of courtesy" on the part of Purcell, but said he was not surprised by the contents of the Diederich's challenge. "He (Purcell) does it to himself," he said.
Purcell was working as an assistant state's attorney in the Williamson County state's attorney's office from March 2021 until last month. Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti confirmed that Purcell was no longer working in his office but declined further comment, calling it "personnel matters."
In Diederich's challenge, he alleges that Purcell did not obtain the required 96 valid signatures that are the minimum required to run for county office. He said Purcell's nomination papers are "insufficient," and that Purcell has not met the residency requirement to run for public office here.
"While I value and encourage every individual's right to seek election to public office," said Diederich in a statement to the Marion Republican, "election integrity is paramount to maintaining voter trust.
"Today, I submitted an objector's petition to remove a candidate from appearing on the primary ballot. This is not something I take lightly but rather feel an ethical obligation on the basis that the candidate has failed to meet the numerous requirements of eligibility to seek public office.
"This includes the questionable and unethical action of currently holding public office in Missouri, which requires Missouri residency, while simultaneously claiming residency in Williamson County, Illinois in an effort to seek another public office."
Diederich is currently the sole candidate for Williamson County Sheriff in the June 28 GOP primary. No Democrats filed to run in the primary, although the party could choose a candidate to run in November,
Diederich's challenge contains copies of meeting minutes from the Bridgeton, Missouri city council that indicate Purcell was attending meetings as a member of that body even after he registered to vote in Williamson County.
The Marion Republican confirmed the content of the Bridgeton Council minutes online at www.bridgetonmo.com.
That page also has Purcell listed as a council member representing Ward 2.
According to Diederich's challenge and confirmed on the Bridgeton website, Purcell attending 11 meetings between July 7, 2021 and March 2 of this year.
According to the Bridgeton City Code 3.04, "A councilman shall forfeit his/her office should he lack at any time during his term of office any qualification for the office prescribed by this Charter or by law."
That charter requires continuous residency. Diederich's challenge simply states that Purcell cannot claim residency in both places.
According to Williamson County Clerk Amanda Barnes, a committee will convene to assess and rule on the challenge.
"I hope to do that on Friday," she said, adding that notifications would need to be sent to Purcell and the committee.
That electoral committee is comprised of Barnes, Circuit Clerk Justin Maze, and Zanotti.
Purcell did not file his petitions in person, but did so via mail, according to Barnes.