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Tallahassee residency case becomes statewide issue

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Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox lives in the City of Tallahassee. While that should not come as man-bites-dog news, it’s not that simple in Florida’s capital.

The residency of the former Tallahassee Mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair was challenged in court by Dr. Erwin Jackson, a frequent city government and Maddox critic. Maddox maintains two domiciles; a rented home within the city limits and another larger residence outside the city, which he owns.

The home outside the city limits was put on the market in 2012 while Maddox was a candidate for the Commission and was put on the market again as he sought re-election this year. Jackson points to that and questions other indicators he says makes the case Maddox lives in the home outside the district.

Second Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in Maddox’s favor on three occasions only to be overruled and scolded for “abuse of discretion” by a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal (DCA). After Dodson had recused himself, colleague Karen Gievers drew the short straw and was assigned the case.

In her 28-page ruling, Gievers said Jackson “has offered neither documents or testimony that establish Maddox’s legal residency on August 30, 2016, at the time of the election was somewhere other than the North Adams Street (city) address.”

She further ruled the “overwhelming credible evidence” shows Maddox lives in the city and that he did not try to “game the system.”

Gievers addressed several questions posed by Jackson and his legal team. Among those were the registrations of vehicles registered to Maddox using the county address between 2000 and 2015.

All eight were changed to the downtown address during calendar year 2016. Gievers admitted the registration changes were “not as timely as the statutes provide,” but that fact still does not prove residence on a particular date.

For the record, Maddox is registered to vote in Precinct 1302 according to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. His rented home in the city is within that precinct, allowing him to answer in the affirmative whether he voted for himself.

The DCA had given a deadline of December 6 for the lower court to make a ruling. Unless they find some procedural error, this should put the Maddox residency matter to rest.

But there is one other matter still percolating within the legal system. The City of Tallahassee has asked the Florida Supreme Court to overrule the DCA hold that local governments should have the final say on residency.

The DCA held the Tallahassee City Charter is subservient to state law, but local governments wish to protect their autonomy to decide who meets the criteria established by their respective charters.

This is a big deal to them. When I published the first article on this topic, I heard from a former Jackson County Commissioner in total agreement with the City’s position.

On Monday, the Florida League of Cities, representing more than 400 communities around the state, turned this into a statewide matter. They, too, are asking for the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.

“The League’s membership has a significant interest in the question before the Court in this proceeding,” they wrote in their filing document. “The governing documents of many of the League’s members contain provisions that, like the provision at issue here, authorize municipal councils and commissions to be the judges of the election and qualification of their members.”

Jackson and his legal team responded on Friday while Maddox and the City responded to the Supreme Court on Monday.

No matter whose side one takes in Jackson v. Maddox, it is probably a good thing to have some clarification. There are good reasons for the communities to set their own standards. There are also good reasons to be on the lookout for circumstances where the Establishment is protecting its own.

Merry Christmas from Tallahassee or Leon County, whichever applies.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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