GALVESTON — Mayoral candidate Jim Yarbrough requested that a homestead exemption be removed from his ranch home outside La Grange last September, a revelation that could affect his candidacy going forward.

On Sept. 8, 2013, Yarbrough submitted a handwritten note to Richard Moring, the chief appraiser of the Fayette County Appraisal District. The note asked Moring to remove the homestead exemption on Yarbrough’s ranch house “effective January 1, 2013.” The home is in an unincorporated part of Fayette County.

The request came eight months and two days before this year’s local election day on May 10.

The city’s charter requires that at-large council candidates have a “principal physical residence” in the city for at least one year before preceding an election. The same section of the charter reads that in order 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.

The letter was obtained by The Daily News through a public records request with the Fayette County Central Appraisal District after one of Yarbrough’s opponents, Don Mafrige, raised questions about residency last week.

By removing the homestead exemption, Yarbrough was required by Fayette County to pay all applicable taxes on the property as if the exemption had never existed, Moring said in an interview Monday.

Moring described the situation of removing a homestead exemption midyear as uncommon, but that his office did have a procedure to deal with requests like Yarbrough’s.

“A lot of times, we don’t know what people’s situation is,” said Moring. “Obviously, you can’t have two homesteads in the same year on different properties.”

For his part, Yarbrough, who was Galveston County judge for 16 years, admitted to requesting the exemption change.

He maintained Monday that by removing the exemption and paying his taxes from the effective date, he still should be a qualified candidate.

“If that’s what I said, that’s what I said,” Yarbrough said when asked about the date he requested the change. “I don’t really remember when it was.”

Asked specifically about when the request for the homestead exemption’s removal was sent, Yarbrough repeatedly referred back to the effective date and the money he paid by making his request.

“Exemptions are always effective January 1, and so I know that if I had that exemption removed it would be as of January 1,” Yarbrough said. “It doesn’t matter when I asked for it — it was effective on that date.”

Mafrige has said he is considering challenging Yarbrough’s candidacy based on his homestead exemption history.

Mafrige said on Saturday that he was investigating allegations about Yarbrough’s residency qualifications. On the same day, Yarbrough acknowledged he had placed a homestead exemption on a home in Fayette County in 2012 but said that he had removed it in 2013 because he knew it could affect his candidacy for mayor.

Yarbrough said that he has lived on the island, even during the time when the homestead exemption was placed on his house in Fayette County. After selling a town house in December 2011, Yarbrough said he and his wife lived in a leased home until September 2013, when they bought a house on Broadway. Yarbrough applied for a homestead exemption on that home, which he lists on his ballot application as his primary residence, in November 2013.

It’s unclear if Yarbrough could be removed from May’s ballot in some way by Mafrige or another opponent.

In an email to The Daily News, City Secretary Janelle Williams said such decisions could not be made by her office.

“The city does not have the authority to declare a candidate ineligible when a question is raised regarding residency,” Williams said.

State law allows district courts the power to rule over the right of a candidate to occupy an office. Such of challenge would need to be initiated by the attorney general’s office or one of the elected candidate’s challengers.

Such a legal challenge could lead to a greater question of whether Galveston’s candidates requirements, which were approved by voters in 2012, fall in line with state law. According to the secretary of state’s website “no public record conclusively proves residence. Only a court of law may make a ruling on a person’s residence.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

(14) comments

Miss Priss

Check voting records, I think Yarbrough voted in the 2012 elections.

Miceal O'Laochdha

If this is the best argument Mafridge has for voting for him over Yarbrough, that is pretty pathetic. If that is the case, then I suggest he pursue other interests.

Island Lover

This is so petty. Great job to the News for giving Mafrige such a prominent forum for this nonsense.

Matt Coulson

It's karma, this is a very Yarboroughian move. The question is who gave Mafridge the info. I don't think he's that sharp on his own. If Yarborough runs he wins.

frank furleigh

Ask the NSA. They'll have the most current documents.

Matt Coulson

Excellent point

Steve Fouga

Has Elizabeth Beeton weighed in yet? I wonder what her take is.

I guess it wouldn't be Galveston politics without a controversy. It'll be funny if Galveston's residency requirements don't meet state law. And then Mafrige will have exposed himself as petty to no avail.

The winner here is Beeton, as long as she stays silent. Yarbrough looks sneaky; Mafrige looks petty...

Stephen Maradeo

It seems The Daily News is doing more campaigning for Yarbrough than he is doing for himself. He hasn't spent a dime on advertising. He is basing his whole campaign on popularity.

I was going to vote for Yarbrough, but I don't like how he isn't trying at all to win. All he has done was fill out a few forms to get his name on the ballot. My vote (and my wife's) will be going against the cheapskate. It's just a bad sign of how he will act as mayor. It seems Yarbrough is running just to see what will happen & doesn't care

And Mafridge has EVERY right to contest Yarbrough's eligibility.

Jim Forsythe

Most money spent on campaigns will not be spent until it gets closer to election day. Then you will see spending increasing. The most effective money spent is not in March!

Raymond Lewis

ScrabbleGuy your logic makes little sense; so are you voting for or against Ms. Beeton since she also has done no advertising. Can't help notice you're accounting for you and your wife's vote. How nice of you.

You're correct in saying that Mr. Mafrige has every right to contest the eligibility of Mr. Yarborough. He has every right to the repercussions also.

May is already starting to seem like a long ways off.

Doyle Beard

Whatever the rules are all should follow. nothing wrong with asking for that.

Jarvis Buckley

Ms. Beeton is a quality person, she will run on what she will do for Galveston. She is no politician
Just a great candidate for Mayor.

Jarvis Buckley

Mr. JY is not a rookie politician , he knows the in & outs of the law. He obviously knew he could
Not have a homestead exemption outside our city and run for public office within our city.Whoever
Encouraged him to run for Mayor, didn't expect anyone to check his homestead status. City politics
Here on this little island is played rough . JY just found that out. He seems like a very nice, honest
Man to me . With the ability to Run this city well, or at least guide it in the right direction with the help
Of council. Explain to the new city manager what is expected , and see that the expectations are
Met. City politics whole lot different than county.He just found that out the hard way.
I don't believe EB will be caught doing anything like this. She is a sound thinker, dots all her i' s &
Cross's her T' s. A Lady of extreme integrity.

Gary Miller

JY is a top dog at political games man.ship. You can bet he's used every dodge at least once before.
If his residency is questioned it'll take until his second term to get a court ruling.

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