GALVESTON — A lawyer representing two mayoral candidates has asked the city secretary to determine Jim Yarbrough’s eligibility to run for mayor.
In the letter sent Tuesday, Houston attorney Mark L.D. Wawro claimed to have public records conclusively establishing that Yarbrough is ineligible to be in the mayoral race.
The document Wawro referred to is a Sept. 8, 2013, letter Yarbrough sent to Richard Moring, the chief appraiser of the Fayette County Appraisal District, asking that a homestead exemption be removed from Yarbrough’s ranch home in an unincorporated part of Fayette County.
Galveston’s city charter requires that council candidates have a “principal physical residence” in the city for at least one year before an election. The same section of the charter reads that for an address to qualify as a “principal physical residence” that candidate must not claim a homestead exemption on any property other the one they list as their principal one.
In the his letter, Wawro lays out the argument that because Yarbrough had a homestead exemption on a home outside of Galveston on May 10, 2013, he is not eligible to run in this year’s election.
The legal argument also parses out a difference between the city secretary’s ability to determine residency — which is defined differently in the state code than it is in the charter — and to determine eligibility.
“The question with respect to Mr. Yarbrough’s candidacy is not his residency as that term is used in the Texas Election Code, but his eligibility for office in accordance with the requirement of the Galveston City Charter,” Wawro wrote.
Janelle Williams, the city secretary, has said previously that she does not have the ability to declare a candidate ineligible and that the city is not able to look beyond information included on a ballot application to determine eligibility.
Wawro disputes that.
A city spokesperson said Wednesday that Williams had not yet responded to Wawro’s letter.
Yarbrough claims that while the exemption was removed in September, it was made to be effective as of Jan. 1, 2013. He said he has paid all of the taxes on his Fayette County home as if the homestead exemption never existed.
On Wednesday, Yarbrough said he welcomed an official review of his eligibility.
“The issue needs to be resolved now, so I welcome the scrutiny of it,” Yarbrough said. “We do not need to go through an election with this cloud hanging over everything.”
Last week, Mafrige confirmed to The Daily News that he had been researching Yarbrough’s property tax history and was considering officially challenging Yarbrough’s placement on the ballot. Wawro’s letter includes an affidavit from Logan Jack, whom Mafrige identified as a campaign employee. In the affidavit, Jack says that he made a public records request with the Fayette County Appraisal District to obtain Yarbrough’s request to remove the exemption.
The Daily News obtained the same letter through its own records request on Monday.
On the same day Mafrige confirmed his inquiries, Beeton denied to a Daily News reporter that she had been researching the topic as well. Reached Wednesday, she said it Mafrige who approached her about his concerns.
“He approached me with the results,” Beeton said. “I felt like what he had found was evidence of ineligibility and I didn’t think it was fair he would have to carry that by himself, so I volunteered to join him.”
Wednesday’s letter clearly represents the challenge as a shared action.
Wawro said he was hired jointly by Mafrige and Beeton. He added that he had a personal history with Beeton, which included working in the same law office years ago.
Despite claims in the letter, Mafrige acknowledged that it might take a higher authority to determine the final outcome of the challenge.
“This is not the end of this thing, this is just the beginning,” Mafrige said.
“I think it will probably go to court, and a judge will eventually make a decision on whether we have a sound question or not.”