BY STEVE ROGERS
A Columbus mayoral candidate promises to correct her qualifying papers by Friday’s deadline to reflect the address where she lives in the city rather than the vacant house currently listed as her address.
“I live in the city. I just listed the address where I thought I would be living,” Garthia Halbert said Tuesday during a wide-ranging, sometimes rambling interview. “That’s what the woman I talked to on the phone said do.”
City election officials say they don’t know who would have told Halbert anything other than to list her actual address. Halbert would not disclose her residence. She said it would become public record when she corrects her qualifying papers. She said she was keeping it private as long as possible so her ex-husband, with whom she is in a custody battle, would not find out.
The residency question is the biggest obstacle facing Halbert as she tries to run for mayor in the Republican primary. Questions about her mental competency also have been raised and, in a deal Thursday in Lowndes County Lunacy Court, she agreed to continue the mental health counseling she has been under for five years.
On Feb. 6 when she qualified to run for mayor, she listed her address as 809 Second Avenue North. She listed her father’s residence in the county as her mailing address and his phone number. An investigation by The Packet found the Second Avenue North address was a vacant house and that Halbert had voted by affidavit ballot at her father’s address in the county last November, saying she had moved from an address on Main Street in Columbus.
In an e-mail exchange early in the week, she said her father checks mail and she doesn’t. She also said he takes messages and she doesn’t.
“It’s just true. Fishy or not. Sometimes life is fishy. I don’t like mail. He does. He takes messages. I don’t. All my bills go there and I don’t live there. It’s just the truth. The truth isn’t always pretty. But it’s true. My life is what it is. My life is as together as it’s going to get. Working on my master’s completion. Going to law school in the fall,” she wrote.
During the interview Tuesday, she acknowledged she hasn’t lived on Main Street “in a long time” and that she didn’t live at the Second Avenue North address.
“I do live in the city,” she reiterated.
To qualify to run for mayor, the candidate only has to live in the city for 30 days prior to the election. The primary is May 2 and the general election is June 6.
The same day she qualified for the election, she registered to vote in the city, using the same address. Because that could be a criminal violation for perjury, Halbert said she also would correct that misstep.
Asked if she might withdraw from the race and focus on her personal issues, Halbert responded, “In my heart, this is what I want to do now,” confirming she plans to continue her effort to get on the ballot. “None of this is a headache, it’s not an embarrassment.”
Her candidacy still must be approved by the Republican Municipal Executive Committee. The city will turn over election materials to the committee Monday for review and action.
A friend of Halbert’s, Columbus native Ira Lanier, who now lives in Denver, Col., originally sent in her $10 campaign qualifying fee in January. It was returned to him because it lacked any accompanying paperwork. He got it to Halbert, who then went to the city in early February to qualify.
While the residency is a major stumbling block to getting on the ballot, questions about her mental health compound the problem.
She acknowledged “general nuttiness” might describe her condition but notes, “I have three therapists who say I am not nuts, I am capable to caring for myself and my children…I have some problems, but I am mentally well.
“If I had a million dollars, you’d say I was eccentric instead of nuts. The line between general nuttiness and eccentric is green, as in money,” she added during another part of the discussion about her mental state.
The former newspaper editor and reporter says she now sells vacuum cleaners, Avon, Rodan and Fields, and other products to support herself and “to get the discounts on the products.”
She admits she’s suffered depression but says it’s now anxiety, for which she takes medication. She also says she suffers from severe migraine headaches, for which she also takes medications. She says when she suffered anxiety attacks in the past, she wanted to “hide and put a blanket over my head.”
She attributes many of her issues to being sexually assaulted by a non-family member when she was 8, raped when she was 16 and raped again last year when she was 32. She says those and other factors during her life, including a relationship 10 years ago that she still is sorting out with legal help, led to her current issues.
Asked why everything seemed to be someone else’s fault, including her departure from two different reporting and management jobs, Halbert countered that it “is not all someone else’s fault.”
“It is my fault, I did not seek therapy before. Childhood issues became adult issues,” she stated.
“There were times when I was faking it, that it was all a dog and pony show, I am sorry for being human. Lots of things over time were my own fault. I have had some problems, I made some poor choices, but I don’t need protection from myself,” she continued.
She says her mental health counseling began in 2012 and she has her next appointment is next week.
She ended up in Lunacy Court last week after a series of events Feb. 12 and Feb. 13 with the city. They started when she called police on the night of Feb. 12 because she thought a man was following her from one Columbus hotel where she was staying to another where she was trying to move because of the stalker, who she says she feared might assault her. She says she was at the hotel because of issues with her car being towed to a dealership in Birmingham where she bought it; she said it was late and she didn’t want to bother her mother or father.
She says the two police officers who came that night were concerned and took care of her before being sent back on duty. She decided to walk to the police department from Highway 45 North and arrived at about 6 a.m. The two officers were going off duty so she decided to wait for Police Chief Oscar Lewis, she says.
A litany of events then unfolded, included her getting out of a police car on Highway 45 because she wanted to go to Kroger to get mediation.
Police, worried about her condition, took her to Baptist Behavioral Health and later signed commitment papers, which resulted in the Lunacy Court hearing last week where she agreed to continue the treatment she says she’s been receiving at Community Counseling Services.
During the interview, she suggested possible mishandling by police, including that officers didn’t file a report about the man she says was following her and police supervisors weren’t concerned about her. She has prepared broad Freedom of Information requests that go well beyond her incidents. When asked why, she said, “Because there may be other things out there, I just want to see.”
When asked why she decided to run for mayor — the race includes incumbent Democrat Robert Smith, former police chief Selvain McQueen running as a Democrat, Halbert in the Republican primary and Independent Montrell Coburn — she responded with the following e-mail, which is printed here with minor editing:
“I like to leave things better than when I found them. I do not always accomplish this goal, but I try nonetheless.
“What I hope to accomplish is change – change for the better, change because it’s overdue, change because Columbus residents deserve better. We waste time and money, the very things Columbus can’t afford to waste. None of us can.
“It’s historic times. Robert Smith. Selvain McQueen. Myself. We are all in the Black History Museum at Hunt for our historic firsts. And now we are all running for mayor.
“I’m no Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Martin Luther King or even a Selvain McQueen, quite frankly. These are dynamic leaders. I’m just a people’s leader.
“Grassroots are the only roots I have. But I’ll be damned if I’m not my father’s daughter, easy like Sunday morning – that’s why they call him Cool Breeze – and my mother’s daughter, a fiery pistol. They call her things I can’t repeat in this email. I get the same thing at least once a month. I’m getting better. It used to be once a week.
“If you want perfection, sorry. I’m as imperfect as they come. I AM the sausage being made. And I Am the Cheese. The cheese stands alone.
“But I’m not a lunatic. It’s a nice campaign slogan in the making, but untrue nonetheless.
“More specifically, I want to:
1. Maximize the police force by donating the salary of two officers out of my own, reinstating the Explorers program & weeding out retirement-eligible and ineffective officers.
2. Hire a more effective administrator
3. Hire a special prosecutor. I’d prefer Forrest Allgood, but that’s his decision to make if/when I’m mayor.
4. Maximize the city’s funds by consolidating ineffective services with the county – perhaps police, schools, road department, economic development. I’d need more insight and research on these areas, but those are what stand out to me as prospective savings areas.
5. Hold informal town hall meetings where we listen to the community rather than the community listening to us.
6. Host community block parties where we feed the residents, give out school supplies to area children & pray and sing together with a different pastor each week to lead prayer and songs.
7. Pay residents for turning in found guns and old prescriptions for proper disposal.
8. Put funds into solving cold cases.
9. Allocate funds toward Traveler’s Aid and homeless services, such as halfway houses and shelters.
10. Celebrate the city’s successes. We are winning in many more areas than we are losing. I’m sick of us putting ourselves down. There are great things about Columbus. We need to tell that story instead of always glorifying bad news. I think we need a PR firm, not a part-time PR person.”
Friday at 5 p.m is the deadline to qualify to run in the May 2 Columbus primaries. Democratic and Republican Party executive committees will review the applications of candidates next week. Candidates running as Independents don’t have to undergo party review but do have to meet other standards.