GALVESTON — The city has taken the stance that Jim Yarbrough is eligible to run for mayor.
In a news release sent Friday, the city said Yarbrough was “eligible to be a candidate and his name will be on the May 2014 ballot.”
The statement was made in response to a letter sent to the city secretary Wednesday by a lawyer representing two of Yarbrough’s opponents in the mayoral race, Elizabeth Beeton and Don Mafrige. The lawyer, Mark Wawro, asked the city secretary to declare Yarbrough ineligible to be in the race because of a homestead exemption Yarbrough had on house in Fayette County for eight months in 2013.
Yarbrough’s opponents claimed the exemption violates the city’s eligibility rules for candidates running for mayor.
The city charter requires that a person’s “primary physical residence” be in the city limits for at least a year before an election. In order for a candidate’s address to qualify as a primary residence, the candidate cannot claim a homestead exemption on a property outside of town.
In the statement, the city said because Yarbrough’s Fayette County homestead exemption was removed, it was not applicable for the entire year.
“James Yarbrough claimed no homestead exemption on any property in the year 2013,” the statement says.
That statement is seemingly a matter of interpretation.
Yarbrough did apply for a homestead exemption on his ranch home in an unincorporated part of Fayette County in March 2012. That exemption remained in place for 17 months, until September 2013, when Yarbrough sent a handwritten note to the Fayette County Central Appraisal District asking for the removal of the exemption with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2013.
That exemption was granted, and the appraisal district’s record now indicate there was no homestead exemption in 2013.
Yarbrough has said he removed the exemption because he knew it could affect his eligibility for mayor. Yarbrough said after removing the exemption, he paid all taxes on the home as if the exemption had never existed.
Beeton and Mafrige’s challenge to the city does not make issue of tax payments and argues that the city’s definition of eligibility supersedes the state election code’s definition of residency — which does not address homesteads.
Reached by phone after the city’s statement released, Mafrige said he and Beeton were considering their next step in challenging Yarbrough’s candidacy.
“It was no surprise,” Mafrige said of the decision. “We’re going to take another step for sure. It would be a legal step.”
Beeton did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Yarbrough said he was pleased with the city’s standpoint, which matched his own, but said that he didn’t think it was the end of the issue.
“Who knows?” Yarbrough said. “I’m pleased that the city secretary upheld it. I hope this end of it. We need to get on campaigning.”