Candidates to appear on ballots as Unicoi, Erwin residency challenges fail

Brad Hicks • Sep 11, 2012 at 10:25 PM

ERWIN — Both Doug Hopson and Sue Jean Wilson — who are seeking seats on the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, respectively, in the November elections — said they never anticipated any issues arising from their intent to seek the offices.

But that has not been the case, as both candidates have recently seen their stated residences and eligibility to run for these offices called into question.

The Unicoi County Election Commission met Tuesday morning to discuss several topics, but the majority of the discussion was focused on the qualifications of Hopson and Wilson to seek the offices. And, after Tuesday’s meeting, the names of both candidates will appear on the November ballots.

Hopson, who has served on the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen since 2004 is the town’s vice mayor, was not certified by the Election Commission to appear on the November ballot when the panel met on Aug. 24. County resident Bart Ray had previously contacted the Election Commission office to state that while Hopson has listed his residence as 108 Hopson Lane in Unicoi on his voter’s registration and qualifying petition paperwork that was submitted to the Election Commission, he actually resides at a home in the Quail Run subdivision located outside of the town of Unicoi’s limits.

Hopson told the commission he has used both addresses in past and is in the process of selling the Quail Run home. He said the Hopson Lane residence has served as his home place for 65 years and he has worked for and represented the town of Unicoi for a number of years.

“I didn’t say I stayed in Unicoi at night, 24 hours a day,” Hopson said. “I’m in Unicoi every day working, and the people that are against it never did one thing for Unicoi. ... I’ve got a home here in Erwin and one in Unicoi at the farm out there, and I’m out there every day.”

Unlike Hopson, Wilson, who serves on the Unicoi County Commission, was certified by the Election Commission to appear on the November ballot to seek a seat on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. However, county resident John Day subsequently sent an email to the commission questioning Wilson’s stated residency.

In his email, Day contested that Wilson does not live at 412 Unaka Way within the limits of Erwin, the address listed on her voter’s registration and qualifying petition paperwork, but instead resides with her husband at 335 Wilson Road, an address that falls outside the town’s limits.

Wilson told the Election Commission that she has maintained the Unaka Way address as her residence since purchasing the home around a decade ago. When asked if she intended to reside at the Unaka Way home, Wilson responded in the affirmative.

“Like Mr. Hopson stated, I’m in and out of there practically every day, besides spending time there in the evenings and at night,” Wilson said. “And how someone could know that I’m not there from 11 o’clock at night until 6 in the morning I’m not quite sure, unless they’re either stalking me or have someone watching my home but if they have that much time, then maybe they need to find something more useful to do.”

Day, who was present for Tuesday’s meeting, said Hopson had taken out a deed of trust earlier this year on the Quail Run home and, per this deed of trust, Hopson must utilize the home as his principal residence until it is sold. He also said it is “common knowledge” Wilson resides with her husband on Wilson Road and uses the Unaka Way residence as a second home.

“I’m calling on this commission to abide by the law in this case, it’s very clear, there’s no question, and not certify her for alderman of the town of Erwin,” Day said.

Election Commission Secretary Marvin Rogers said he has thoroughly researched the matter and consulted District Attorney General Tony Clark to obtain his opinion. Following a Sept. 5 conversation between the two regarding Wilson’s eligibility, Clark, who consulted Tennessee Assistant Coordinator of Elections Beth Henry-Robertson, sent a letter to the Election Commission stating both candidates should be legally eligible to seek the offices.

“According to Ms. Robertson, she applied the facts and allegations of this situation and is of the opinion that no party involved had the intent or fraudulent means in obtaining an elected position,” Clark’s letter states. “She further stated that it is legal for a person to have two residences as long as one of them is declared their home.

“After researching this matter and speaking with the Division of Elections, it is my opinion that the above referenced information applies to any persons seeking office to include Unicoi city alderman.”

Rogers said Robertson had advised the Election Commission office that under state law, the residence associated with a candidate’s voting record indicates the candidate’s permanent residence.

“In talking with Tony Clark and Beth Henry-Robertson at the state election office, they both used multiple examples to illustrate that we have many citizens that have multiple residences and, when they signed their voter registration card, they can only register to vote at one place,” said Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey. “Under the law, they are saying that that is their residence. They can own other places. They can stay other places.”

Election commissioners present Tuesday unanimously voted to grant Hopson certification to run in November. A measure to rescind Wilson’s previous certification failed due to lack of a motion by any of the commissioners.

Both Hopson and Wilson expressed relief Tuesday afternoon that the questions surrounding their eligibility appear to have been laid to rest.

“I’m glad it’s over and done with for my health and for the community,” Hopson said.

“I don’t know why some people feel the need to do this but, hopefully, they’ll let it rest now,” Wilson said.

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