The Covington News - - Lo­cal news -

proven other­wise this week,” Flem­ing said, adding, “ I’m not go­ing in the gut­ter. They want to play dirty tricks. This is sim­ply pol­i­tics of des­per­a­tion.”

Jimmy Alexan­der, at­tor­ney for Flem­ing, called the ac­tions of the Vin­son cam­paign to dis­qual­ify Flem­ing af­ter the Repub­li­can pri­mary, a “ cheap shot.”

Though Oe­land said the Vin­son cam­paign had known for some time about Flem­ing’s homestead ex­emp­tion, they de­cided to not raise a chal­lenge un­til Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State Karen Han­del is­sued a re­lease stat­ing homestead ex­emp­tions should be viewed as the le­gal res­i­dence of in­di­vid­u­als run­ning for of­fice.

“ I’m a lawyer. Randy looks to me for le­gal ad­vice and frankly I didn’t un­der­stand the is­sue enough legally to be able to act on it un­til af­ter the [ Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sioner can­di­date Jim] Pow­ell de­ci­sion and the sec­re­tary of state made her state­ment that I think is clearly on point with the facts that we have here,” Oe­land said.

Be­cause of the in­con­clu­sive­ness of the BOE’s de­ci­sion, Oe­land said the cam­paign is cur­rently weigh­ing what their next step should be and is con­sid­er­ing re­quest­ing an opin­ion on the mat­ter from the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice.

“ The trou­ble that we’re run­ning into now is the board of elec­tions didn’t make a de­ci­sion. To ap­peal some­thing there has to be a fi­nal de­ci­sion made at the lower level be­fore your ap­pel­late rights kick in,” Oe­land said, adding that be­cause both mo­tions to up­hold and deny the chal­lenge to Flem­ing’s can­di­dacy failed, there is no clear rul­ing from the BOE.

Ques­tions on Ge­or­gia law

An ear­lier chal­lenge to Flem­ing’s can­di­dacy filed by Jerry Childers, first vice chair of the New­ton County Demo­cratic Party, was thrown out by the BOE when they ruled that it was not filed within the two weeks af­ter qual­i­fi­ca­tion ends, as Ge­or­gia law re­quires for vot­ers.

At the re­quest of Oe­land, the BOE then voted to open its own hear­ing based on its role as elec­tions su­per­vi­sor for New­ton County be­cause of ev­i­dence Flem­ing does have a cur­rent homestead ex­emp­tion filed for a home not in Dis­trict 5.

“ I’m go­ing to have to make a mo­tion that we make a chal­lenge for the sim­ple rea­son of up­hold­ing this Ge­or­gia elec­tion code,” said BOE mem­ber Ed­wards, adding “ noth­ing per­sonal against Mr. Flem­ing.”

A hear­ing was then im­me­di­ately con­vened with the con­sent of Flem­ing. The meet­ing was at­tended by a num­ber of New­ton County Democrats and Repub­li­cans in­clud­ing State Sen. John Dou­glas ( R- So­cial Cir­cle) and Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Steve Bray, who both spoke on Flem­ing’s be­half.

Flem­ing’s at­tor­ney, Alexan­der, en­tered into ev­i­dence as proof of his res­i­dency in Dis­trict 5 a lease/ pur­chase agree­ment to buy a house on Floyd Street from Es­ther Flem­ing, Tim’s fa­ther and the Dis­trict 3 com­mis­sioner.

Copies of util­ity bills for the Floyd Street home, Flem­ing’s driver’s li­cense and his fed­eral in­come tax bill were all also en­tered to show that Flem­ing phys­i­cally resided in the Floyd Street home, which he tes­ti­fied he moved into in late March.

New­ton County’s elec­tion code re­quires can­di­dates run­ning for county of­fice to have resided within the dis­trict they are seek­ing to rep­re­sent for at least six months im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing the date of the gen­eral elec­tion.

Since qual­i­fy­ing Flem­ing said he has spent many hours cam­paign­ing around the dis­trict and has spent thou­sands of cam­paign dol­lars.

Oe­land then told the board that re­gard­less of where Flem­ing phys­i­cally lived, Ge­or­gia law states the house where a homestead ex­emp­tion is filed is viewed as the per­son’s true res­i­dence.

“ Some­times where you live, where you stay from night to night, is dif­fer­ent than your res­i­dence or domi­cile for pur­poses of stand­ing for elec­tion,” Oe­land said.

Both Oe­land and Alexan­der cited the Jim Pow­ell case to bol­ster their side of the ar­gu­ment. Pow­ell, who is run­ning as a Demo­crat for the state’s Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, has been dis­qual­i­fied from run­ning for of­fice, de­spite win­ning his party’s nom­i­na­tion, by Sec­re­tary of State Karen Han­del, a Repub­li­can.

In dis­qual­i­fy­ing Pow­ell from run­ning for of­fice, Han­del cited a homestead ex­emp­tion he had filed for a home lo­cated out­side of the dis­trict for which he is cam­paign­ing. Pow­ell suc­cess­fully ap­pealed Han­del’s de­ci­sion with the Ful­ton County Su­pe­rior Court, which ruled he should be al­lowed on the bal­lot.

Pow­ell’s case is set to be heard by the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court, af­ter Han­del ap­pealed the Ful­ton County rul­ing.

In Por­terdale last fall, Elec­tions Su­per­in­ten­dent Tom Fox ruled an ex­ist­ing homestead ex­emp­tion filed by Gigi Shi­nall was enough to dis­qual­ify her from run­ning for the Por­terdale City Coun­cil, even though Shi­nall was able to prove her phys­i­cal res­i­dence was within the city’s lim­its.

The BOE’s at­tor­ney, Peter Olsen seemed to weigh in on the side of Flem­ing when he noted that the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court when rul­ing on res­i­dency cases in the past has looked fa­vor­ably on the “ in­tent to re­side” — where in­di­vid­u­als phys­i­cally live, rather than where they may have a homestead ex­emp­tion claimed.

“ You have to look at the to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances that de­ter­mine the in­tent of the can­di­date,” Olsen said.

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