ERWIN — The residency of a second candidate seeking local office in the November election has been called into question, a matter that is slated for discussion at an upcoming meeting of the Unicoi County Election Commission.
Earlier this week, John Day, Unicoi County resident and spokesman for the Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance, sent an email to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey questioning the stated residence of current Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson, who is also one of the five candidates seeking two open alderman seats on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen in the November general election.
“Please consider this a formal protest of the certification of Sue Jean Wilson’s petition for the Town of Erwin Board Alderman in the November election and petition to the Unicoi County Election Commission to rescind Ms. Wilson’s certification and remove her name from the list of qualified candidates for said election because Ms. Wilson is ineligible to run for the office of Town of Erwin Alderman since she does not meet the residency requirements,” Day’s email states.
Day contests that Wilson does not reside at 412 Unaka Way in Erwin, the address Wilson has listed on her voter’s registration and on the qualifying petition submitted to the Election Commission office earlier this month to seek the alderman seat. Instead, Day wrote that Wilson instead resides with her husband at 355 Wilson Road, an address that falls outside of the limits of the town of Erwin.
The charter of the town of Erwin states that an alderman or one seeking to become an alderman must reside within the limits of the town.
“Be it further enacted, That any qualified voter of the Town, who is also a freeholder of the Town, and who is a citizen of and actually resides and lives in the Town and has his or her domicile within the boundaries of the Town of Erwin, shall be eligible to have his or her name on the ballot for and to be elected to the office of Mayor or Aldermen, provided further that a failure to continue to actually reside and live in and have his or her domicile within said boundaries shall vacate said office,” the charter states.
Tennessee Code Annotated 6-3-101 also states “no person shall be eligible for the office of alderman unless such person has resided within the ward for at least one year next preceding the election” and “any officer moving from such officer’s ward, in the case of an alderman, or moving from the municipality, in the case of the mayor, during the term of office shall be presumed to have vacated the office.”
This is not the first time Wilson’s eligibility to serve one of Unicoi County’s governmental boards has been questioned. At a county meeting held in August 2009, Commissioner Gene Wilson called for his colleague’s resignation. Then, Gene Wilson said Sue Jean Wilson was not living within the district she represented on the county commission and said she was not residing at the Unaka Way residence listed as her address to be a commissioner from the county’s 2nd district.
Because of this, Day wrote that Sue Jean Wilson was aware of the residency requirements to seek office and feels she broke the law when she “intentionally” and “blatantly” ignored them.
“It is my opinion, because Ms. Wilson’s residency was challenged in 2009 as a Unicoi County Commissioner that she knew the residency requirements and that she does not meet them but ignored those facts to enter the raceforTownofErwinAlderman,” Day wrote in his email.
The Unicoi County Election Commission met on Aug. 24 to certify the candidates to appear on the November ballot, and Wilson was certified at that time. Bailey said she has been in contact with the state’s assistant coordinator of elections who advised it was the duty of the Election Commission to investigate any claims that a candidate may not be qualified up to the printing of the ballots.
“She compared it to if you were to have gotten word that one of your candidates was actually a felon, even though you had already certified them, it would be the Election Commission’s duty at that point to investigate that and meet and possibly, if the information was true, to remove them from the ballot at that point,” Bailey said.
Bailey said it is standard for the Election Commission to investigate anytime a claim has been made. Both Wilson’s eligibility, as well as the eligibility of current Unicoi Vice-Mayor Doug Hopson to seek at seat on the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen, will be discussed at the Unicoi County Election Commission’s Sept. 11 meeting.
Unlike Wilson, Hopson has not yet been certified by the Election Commission to appear on the November ballot, as decided at the commission’s Aug. 24 meeting. While Day’s email also challenges Hopson’s stated residency, this matter was previously questioned by Unicoi County resident Bart Ray. Ray previously contacted the Election Commission Office to state that while Hopson listed his residence as 108 Hopson Road on his qualifying petition paperwork, he actually resides in the Quail Run subdivision located outside the town of Unicoi’s limits.
Wilson said Friday that she has maintained the Unaka Way residence as her home for around a decade.
“In my opinion, I serve at the pleasure of the taxpayers of the town of Erwin and Unicoi County, and I will abide by whatever the Election Commission decides,” Wilson said.