The mayor’s race in the Village of Tangipahoa couldn’t have been closer and still had a winner.
Shelia Martin, a schoolteacher and current village alderman, received 121 votes in the Dec. 5 runoff election. Dawn Gray, a legal assistant in the 21st Judicial District Court public defender’s office, received 120 votes
“As a citizen, you have the right to vote,” Martin said. “If you’re a registered voter, cast your vote. If you aren’t a registered voter, become a registered voter. Every vote counts. Every vote matters.”
Gray has yet to concede, saying she has “become aware of some troubling activity that seems to have contributed to the outcome of the election.” She didn’t divulge what her next move would be.
“I intend to take whatever steps necessary to ensure that the integrity of our election process is upheld,” Gray said in a text message Friday.
Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Gray’s allegations Friday afternoon.
The Village of Tangipahoa, population 748, is just south of Kentwood in the northern portion of Tangipahoa Parish.
Martin’s election puts two members of one household in two major leadership positions in the village, which shares its name with its parish. Darrell Martin, the police chief reelected in November, is married to the newly elected mayor.
That doesn't sit well with Gray.
“I just don’t think that much power should be in one household because there’s no accountability there,” she said. “There are certain things that a husband and wife shouldn’t be engaging in as public officials. There’s certain things that shouldn’t be allowed.”
Martin, the mayor-elect, said she wasn’t letting the concerns discourage her. She argues she is actually losing power because she’ll no longer have the ability to vote on ordinances for the village on the Board of Aldermen and will instead be handling day-to-day operations as mayor when she begins her new role early next year.
“It made me push harder to let the residents know that there is no power, it’s just a husband and a wife that have an opportunity to make a difference in the village that they live,” Martin said.
The village needs many improvements, including water line upgrades, additional low-income housing and attracting businesses, Martin said.
One of her first priorities: finding additional funding for the police department that her husband heads.
“We only have one part-time officer who works 30 hours on the weekend. My husband ... he’s working Monday through Friday, 24/7,” Martin said.
Martin said her husband, the chief, declined to comment.
As she enters office at the beginning of next year, Martin will also have the cloud of two lawsuits against her and the city’s two other aldermen hanging over her head.
Attorney Charles Brumfield sued Martin and the two other aldermen, Rickey Coleman and Debra Cyprian, in mid-2019, claiming the Board of Aldermen violated open meeting and public record laws during meetings about Club 81, a nightclub in the village.
The board had sought to restrict the club’s hours, citing safety issues.
Then, in January, the board denied an occupational license for the club. The club’s owners sued again, arguing the denial was in retaliation for the first lawsuit.
In February, Judge Robert H. Morrison ordered the village to issue an occupational license to Club 81, according to court records.
In September, Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks ruled in favor of Brumfield in the first suit, ordering the three aldermen to fulfill the public records requests, each pay a fine of $14,000 and cover all costs of the litigation, according to court records.
The trio requested a new trial in August, which was denied the following month.
Martin declined to comment on the lawsuits.
Both Coleman and Cyprian decided against running for reelection to the Board of Aldermen, leaving Martin with an entirely new board as she starts her term as mayor.
“There’s a lot to be done, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Martin said. “Making changes in Tangipahoa won’t be done in one day. I have made up my mind to make a difference and the people voted me in as the next mayor of Tangipahoa.”