Mobility complicates New Jersey officeholder residency rules

Track star Carl Lewis , with homes in Medford and California, is awaiting a U.S. ruling on his candidacy for the N.J. Senate.
Track star Carl Lewis , with homes in Medford and California, is awaiting a U.S. ruling on his candidacy for the N.J. Senate. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 21, 2011

The fear was that a carpetbagger might wrest control of local government.

The solution was a hodgepodge of rules, some drafted more than a century ago, that set residency requirements for elected officials.

But in an increasingly mobile society, exactly who is an outsider?

How about the Olympian who owns homes in multiple states, including New Jersey, but grew up in Willingboro and still coaches there? Should he remain on the ballot for the state Senate if he recently voted in California?

What about the Beachwood, Ocean County, mayor who recently became homeless after he was evicted? Should he be stripped of his office because he has been staying with friends inside and outside the Shore town?

And then there is the Medford Township councilwoman who fled to a neighboring town during a nasty divorce. After six months, she still hadn't moved back, though she considered her relocation temporary. So she lost her job.

Recent challenges have created increased debate about when to pursue residency-requirement violators. Determining a person's true address can be difficult for those who relocate often, own several homes, or are forced to find temporary quarters in a hurry.

Track star Carl Lewis, who has homes in Medford and California, is awaiting a federal court ruling on whether he can remain a Democratic candidate in New Jersey's Eighth District.

Lewis says his Medford home is his primary residence, but the Burlington County Republican Party says he certified he was a resident of California when he voted there in 2009. Judges have issued conflicting rulings.

William Tambussi, Lewis' lawyer, says that Lewis has maintained his local ties. Furthermore, he says, the rule that a Senate candidate must live in his district for at least four years is "unconstitutional, and therefore unenforceable," because it is irrelevant to a person's ability to govern.

In Beachwood, Ron Jones stepped down as mayor June 10 after the Borough Council questioned his residency. The former police dispatcher had been evicted and had no permanent address, he told the council. Sometimes he stayed with friends, Jones said.

Jones threatened to sue if the council tried to remove him. "I was temporarily homeless. . . . Millions of people are homeless," he said.

But Jones, who now lives in Toms River, resigned when the governing body scheduled a hearing to challenge his residency.

Councilman Gerald LaCrosse said he had pressed the issue because Jones rarely attended meetings and did not have the town's interests at heart.

"I thought he was taking taxpayers' money fraudulently" by accepting a $7,000 mayoral salary while living elsewhere, LaCrosse said. During his tenure, residents twice tried to recall Jones, but their petitions fell short when signatures were invalidated.

Beachwood also struggled over what to do when Joel Balazinski, who likewise said he was homeless, filed a petition in April to run for mayor in the Democratic primary. Balazinski, who earlier gave his address as the Borough Hall, maintained that his home was wherever he was standing at the moment.

Borough Clerk Bette Mastropasqua said that Balazinski often sued the borough and that she feared he might file a civil-rights lawsuit if she didn't allow him on the ballot.

"History has shown that the courts will bend over backwards to allow someone to vote or run for office," Mastropasqua told the council. "I have decided to let everything move forward and place Mr. Balazinki's candidacy in the hands of our very intelligent voters in Beachwood."

He lost the primary.

Former Medford Councilwoman Victoria Fay may file an appeal after her ouster in March for violating the township's residency rule.

Fay recently lost the first round when a Superior Court judge ruled that she made a choice when she moved to Evesham in November. Judge Michael Hogan said that she had no real prospect of returning after her husband was granted rights to the couple's home, but Fay said the move was not permanent.

"I understand they do not want an outsider coming in and running the town, but I've been a resident for 17 years," she said.

Mayor Chris Myers said the governing body was obligated to remove Fay. "The law says you have to live in the township you serve in," he said.


 

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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