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More on the non-residency story

Whatever you thought of yesterday’s story regarding the questionable residencies of two City Council candidates, this is a more serious issue for one of them.

City Council candidate Jack Christie could have to pay about $5,000 in back property taxes after questions about his residency revealed that he and his wife claimed homestead exemptions at separate properties in recent years, officials said Thursday.

Christie also could be stripped of the homestead exemption at his Bunker Hill Village house after he formally declared a leased residence in Houston as his home in order to run for City Council.

“Legally, he’s not entitled to the one in Bunker Hill, if he’s a resident of the city of Houston,” said Jim Robinson, chief appraiser at the Harris County Appraisal District. “He’s created a fine mess here.”

Jack Christie and Melanie Christie are now divorced. In 2005 and 2006 they were married, but living in separate homes in Bunker Hill Village and Houston, respectively. Both claimed homestead exemptions those years, but they were not entitled to them before their December 2006 divorce was finalized, officials say.

“They’re going to have to establish who gets the homestead exemption,” Robinson said.

The tax issue comes a day after the Houston Chronicle reported that Christie and fellow At-large 5 candidate Zafar Tahir leased in-city properties to meet eligibility requirements for elected office in Houston. The city requires candidates to live in Houston for a year before the election.

Oops. People may not care that much about where you actually live versus where you say you live, but they do get a bit testy about inappropriate homestead exemption claims. Ask newly unelected State Rep. Gene Seaman about that one.

Both candidates work in Houston and have lived in the city before. They say they have longstanding civic ties and a strong desire to serve Houston.

Candidates in Texas generally are free to establish such a technical residency for elections, even in the face of evidence that they do not live at the location, according to city lawyers and case law.

But the issue, which has come up in local races before, can be used as a political issue to criticize an opponent.

That’s what happened Thursday, as three of the six other candidates in the At-Large Position 5 council race raised questions about the actions of Tahir, a businessman, and Christie, a chiropractor and former chairman of the State Board of Education.

One opponent, lawyer Tom Nixon, called on Mayor Bill White’s administration to remove both men from the ballot.

“There’s no excuse, and no room for false representation, on Houston City Council,” he said.

“The voters should be able to trust that you are who you say you are, and that you live in Houston everyday, all the time.”

Candidate Jolanda Jones, also a lawyer, stopped short of challenging her two opponents’ place on the ballot.

“I support anyone participating in the political process, even if they run against me, but I just think that everyone should follow the law, both the letter and spirit,” she said. “I challenge every candidate to follow the rules.”

City Attorney Arturo Michel said his office could not rule a candidate ineligible without receiving a complaint accompanied by public records that contradict the purported residency “conclusively.”

It should be noted that the candidate who has the most to gain from Zaf Tahir and Jack Christie being ejected from the ballot is Tom Nixon. That’s because of the eight candidates for At Large #5, six are Democrats and two – Nixon and Christie – are Republicans. With both Nixon and Christie on the ballot, you’d expect them to split most of whatever the Republican vote is in that race, which may leave both of them short of a runoff. But with only one Republican to pick from, that person would be a strong favorite to make it past round one. It’s therefore not surprising to me that Nixon is making the strongest statement.

That doesn’t mean Nixon is wrong, of course. He may well be right. But there’s a risk in him taking the next step, which is to file the complaint Arturo Michel references, because the law is generally pretty slack about this, and both candidates might be ruled eligible. If that happens, then it’s a campaign issue that can be used against him. Much safer to make a lot of noise and hope they drop out on their own, or someone else files the complaint. We’ll see what happens next.

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One Comment

  1. Christof Spieler says:

    In San Francisco, where the law about residency appears to be stricter, a county supervisor is about to face trial on charges of lying about where he lives. It’s been a great story — the DA demanded electrical bills, neighbors talked about how they never saw him. The best part is that the whole thing was triggered by an investigation into tapioca shop corruption.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/12/BAI2S3IBV.DTL&hw=supervisor+residency&sn=003&sc=688
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Jew