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Board Rules Athens Candidate Can’t Put Her Nickname on the Ballot

Sidney Waters appeared on Fox News earlier this month to promote her candidacy for Athens-Clarke County Commission.

Athens-Clarke County Commission candidate Sidney Waters may be better known in the community as “Mama Sid,” but the ACC Board of Elections ruled that she cannot use that nickname on the May ballot because it’s also the name of the Eastside pizzeria she owns.

“When I walked through the door people were saying, ‘Hello, Mama Sid,” Waters told the BOE at a Tuesday meeting. “Very few people know my name is Sidney.”

Waters and her son said she’s been called Mama Sid since the early 1980s, when her son’s friends gave her the nickname. Several years later, after the nickname caught on, she renamed her restaurant Mama Sid’s. She is now retired, she said Tuesday, although she is still listed as the registered agent of the business on state documents.

State law allows candidates to put their nicknames on the ballot if they’re well-known as, say, “Bubba,” but only under certain circumstances. Waters’ opponent, incumbent Commissioner Carol Myers, argued that business names are among the nicknames prohibited by state election law, along with monikers reflecting a professional or religious affiliation. Those regulations prevent Myers, who holds a PhD and is a former Athens Tech administrator, from adding titles like “Dr.” or “Dean” to the ballot. The county attorney’s office backed up Myers’ interpretation in a memo to the BOE.

When Waters ran for and won a school board seat in 2004, she was listed as Sidney Anne Waters on the ballot, without the nickname.

Waters has been using a pizza icon and the slogan “a fresh slice for District 8” on her yard signs, according to Myers supporter Karen Dunn, leading to concerns that Waters is trying to capitalize on the popularity of her business for political gain. “It could provide a slight advantage, which I’m not comfortable with,” said BOE member Hank Qadir.

Another board member, Adam Shirley, agreed. “If it were a question of Sid, Sid Waters, it would be a different story to me,” he said, but using Mama Sid blurs the line. 

“The tie between the nickname and the business name is a little too close for my comfort,” said board chairman Rocky Raffle.

Two board members voted to allow Waters to go by “Sidney ‘Mama Sid’ Waters” on the ballot.

“Mama Sid is still Mama Sid whether she has a business or not,” Ann Till said. And Willa Fambrough said she doesn’t associate the name with pizza.

On Monday, the BOE will hold a hearing on whether to disqualify JP Lemay, a candidate for county tax commissioner, on the grounds that Lemay is employed by the Athens-Clarke County government. Lemay’s opponent, Brant Spratlin, filed a challenge to Lemay’s eligibility last Thursday.

The hearing must be held quickly because the deadline is approaching to print and send overseas military ballots for the May 21 election, Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee said.

Both Spratlin and Lemay qualified to run as Democrats for the open seat.