TAVARES – Complaints that a Lake County commissioner seeking re-election lives outside the district he represents will likely be resolved by voters this fall.
One or two issues of residency arise each election cycle in Florida, Susan MacManus, a political analyst and a professor at the University of South Florida, told the Florida Record.
“There’s often legal inquiries, but then political solutions,” she said.
That’s because the state law regarding local elections isn’t clear-cut. Florida law says a county commissioner must live in the district he or she represents; however, it doesn’t specify what makes an address a true residence.
“Usually locally somebody checks out the law and somebody makes a definitive statement that … there’s a lack of clarity on it,” MacManus said. “Usually, the final say-so comes with the voters. Either they vote somebody out because they don’t like or it doesn’t matter. Voters usually have the last say.”
In Lake County, Commissioner Tim Sullivan owns a home outside District 1, which he represents, but also rents an apartment within its boundaries, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which first reported the story in February. Sullivan used the apartment address when he ran for election in 2012.
Sullivan, a Republican, has denied that his actions violate state law regarding residency. In his second race, Sullivan faces two other Republican candidates for county commissioner.
At the state level, residency became an issue when district lines were redrawn, MacManus said.
Legislators passed a joint rule about residency in 2014. The rule states that legislators must be a legal resident of the district they represent at the time of the election and throughout their time in office. While they may have multiple residences, they are allowed only one legal residence. Bank records, voter registration and homestead tax exemption are examples of factors that would be used to determine which is the legal residence.