EQUAL TIME: Homestead exemption key to proving residency
Today marks the fourth time in 12 days that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has used the editorial pages to publish misguided and unsubstantiated opinions criticizing the secretary of state's office and our constitutional responsibilities with state elections.
First, this paper chose to rehash already disproven arguments concerning Georgia's photo ID law while calling on the Georgia Supreme Court to eventually strike down the law. Now, the subject has turned to my disqualification of Public Service Commission District 4 candidate Jim Powell. It is clear that this paper is more interested in trying to influence the decisions of the judges hearing these cases rather than providing fair, accurate and relevant information to its readers. I'm going to try to set the record straight, again.
The reason for my decision to disqualify Powell was simple, to the point and made following a comprehensive review of the evidence in this matter and Georgia law, including the Georgia Supreme Court's decision in Dozier v. Baker. Georgia law requires candidates for the Public Service Commission to reside in their district for at least 12 months prior to the election. Further, Georgia law states that the specific address in the county or municipality in which a person has declared a homestead exemption, if a homestead exemption has been claimed, shall be deemed the person's residence address. Additionally, the statutes authorizing homeowners to claim a homestead exemption provide that the exempted homestead "shall be the legal residence and domicile of the applicant for all purposes whatever."
Contrary to the opinion of this newspaper and supporters of Powell, the May 2008 Georgia Supreme Court decision in the challenge to Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker's residency reaffirmed the importance of a homestead exemption in determining residency. The court found that Baker is, in fact, a resident of District 2 based on a home and homestead exemption maintained in his name (and his name only) in the district.
Baker's wife claimed a homestead exemption outside the district.
Why is this important in Powell's case? At the time Powell qualified as a candidate for Public Service Commission District 4, he received a homestead exemption in his name and continued to receive mail at a home owned in Cobb County, which is not within District 4.
Only after Powell qualified in April as a candidate for Public Service Commission District 4 did he cancel his homestead exemption in Cobb County and apply for a homestead exemption in Towns County. And when Powell applied for the exemption in Towns County, he even provided his Cobb County address as his mailing address to the Tax Assessor's Office. It is clear in the record of this case and in my order disqualifying Powell that he did not meet the 12-month residency requirement.
If my decision to disqualify Powell is overturned and he is found to be a resident of District 4, it will have a profound impact on future elections. It will reverse longstanding precedent. No longer will there be a clear standard by which residency is established for candidates, as the mere renting of an apartment in a district will be determinative rather than a homestead exemption that is the longstanding standard for recognition of residency by the state of Georgia.
The facts concerning Powell's residency challenge were taken very seriously by my office, as was every other challenge that I reviewed. There were no political considerations made in this case or any other. As prescribed by Georgia law, Powell has exercised his right to appeal my final decision to Fulton County Superior Court. I am confident that the judge hearing this case will more thoroughly review and follow the facts than the editors of this newspaper, who have been shown, once again, to be more motivated by politics, empty rhetoric and hyperbole than the facts and the law.