In Galveston’s race for mayor, Don Mafrige claimed to have evidence that could disqualify one of his opponents, Jim Yarbrough. Mafrige said Yarbrough had claimed a homestead exemption on his ranch in Central Texas — and had not canceled that exemption until September.
Yarbrough said he was confident that he had met all the requirements for residency.
So, who’s right?
That will be up to a judge.
The Galveston City Charter requires that a candidate live in the city for at least a year before the election. It specifies that one of the tests for residency is the homestead exemption — at least in the sense that a candidate can’t claim a homestead outside the district he or she is running for.
Yarbrough contends that, since homestead exemptions run year to year, any change made in 2013 would cover the whole year. He had no exemption as of Jan. 1, 2013, which is more than a year before the election.
The charter says that a person must not claim a homestead exemption on any property other than his residence. Yarbrough had no homestead exemption in 2013.
Mafrige’s complaint suggests that, in his reading of the charter, having a homestead exemption on file in another county as late as September violates the one-year rule. In his view, any candidate for mayor should have canceled a homestead exemption outside Galveston by May 10, 2013 — one year before the election.
What’s the process for getting a definitive answer?
That probably would involve a legal challenge from at least one of the candidates.
That might strike many people as unfair. But remember that in 2010, City Councilman Rusty Legg had to pay the legal costs of defending the election that put him in office.
Legg won a close runoff against incumbent Tarris Woods, who sued, citing problems with the election.
The city, though it was responsible for conducting the election, was not a party to the lawsuit. The legal action was between the candidates.
In the upcoming election, Yarbrough, a former county judge, is widely viewed as the front-runner. The legal challenge would have to come from one of his opponents.
If there is going to be a challenge, the public would be better served if it were filed sooner, rather than later. The worst possible scenario would be for the issue to be decided in court after the election.
At a glance
What the charter says
ARTICLE II. THE COUNCIL
Section 2. ualifications. At the time of election, each Councilmember shall be a qualified voter of the city of Galveston, and shall hold no other elective public office nor be an employee of the city or any agency of the city. Each councilmember elected to represent a district shall have been domiciled and shall have had his or her principal physical residence in such district for a period of not less than one (1) year immediately preceding the councilmember’s election. Each councilmember elected at large shall have been domiciled and shall have had his or her principal physical residence in the city for a period of not less than one (1) year immediately preceding the councilmember’s election. For the purposes of this section, a person must meet all of the following to meet the requirement for a “principal physical residence,” if applicable:
(a) The person must use the residence address for voter registration and driver’s license purposes;
(b) The person must use the residence address as the person’s home address on documents such as employment records, resumes, business cards, government forms, and loan applications;
(c) The person must not claim a homestead exemption on any property other than the residence.
If a councilmember shall cease to possess any of these qualifications, or shall be convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, the office of the councilmember shall immediately become vacant.
SOURCE: Galveston City Charter