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Joyner Will Appeal Reese's Decision on His Residency for Council Race

City clerk rules candidate ineligible to run; no legal apartment at declared address

SBJ Staff Report


Oct 10, 2011 -  UPDATED 10:30 a.m. - In a six-page decision, and with a systematic approach, the City of Savannah’s Clerk of Council Dyanne C. Reese ruled last Friday that George ‘Ruel” Joyner, Jr, was not a resident of District 1 or the City of Savannah as of the deadline to run for Alderman in the Nov. 8 municipal elections.

Reese concluded that he did meet either the six month or one year requirements, two separate parts of the Georgia Election codes.

Joyner entered the race for District 1 Alderman in June, seeking to unseat incumbent Van Johnson who has held the post since 2002. In his sworn affidavit required of all candidates, Joyner listed his domicile and residence as an apartment at 24 E. Broughton St., in a property owned by his parents, George and Sarah Joyner, Sr. of Tybee Island. He also asserted that he had been a resident of District 1 for two years.

According to Joyner’s lawyer, Atty. Mark Tate of Savannah, Joyner will appeal her decision, as provided for in the Georgia Election Code statutes.  The court will only review evidence produced at the hearing on Thursday, Sept. 29 – no new evidence can be presented by either party.

“The whole hearing, and the release of the decision on a Friday afternoon… it’s the oldest trick in the book. They have fit the stereotype of every politically motivated decision ever made,” said Tate in an interview today.

Joyner’s residency was challenged by a supporter of Johnson, Kenneth Dunham, during the two-week period allowed for challenges by the Georgia Election statutes. Challenges can only be considered after the deadline for declaring candidacy has passed. Dunham presented evidence
that Joyner lives with his wife and children at 207 Barley Road on Oatland Island, outside the City limits.

Reese found that on May 9, 2011, Ruel changed his address on his voter registration card
to 24 E. Broughton St. after meeting with Russell Bridges, the Supervisor of Elections for Chatham County. Bridges concurs that Joyner came to see him, but asserts that he directed Joyner to go see Reese immediately, as Bridges makes no decisions relative to municipal election candidacy.  Reese states that Joyner did not come to see her at that time.

That date is one day shy of the six month residency requirement to run in the Nov. 8 election for a District Aldermanic seat. But additionally, Joyner failed to meet the other critical requirement of the election laws: all candidates for municipal elections must be residents for one year in the City of Savannah, she concluded.

Reese also asserts that his voter registration change was from his parents’ home on Tybee Island where he had not lived since purchasing his Oatland Island home in 1999. However, Joyner voted on Tybee as recently as November 2010 – not in the City of Savannah – a negative against establishing his one-year City residency.

Joyner owns 24e, an upscale furniture store on the ground floor of 24 E. Broughton St. At the hearing on Thursday, Sept. 29 to review the challenge to his residency, Joyner represented that he lived in an apartment above the store at that address where he co-habited with his wife and children equal to their Barley Rd. home.

In her review, Reese outlines that there is no evidence that a legal apartment exists at that address, based on tax assessment records, water meters and building permits, and stated that Joyner and his lawyer, Atty. Mark Tate, did not provide any evidence of the existence
of an apartment.

“Based on my understanding, she is stating that we presented no evidence of his domiciliary.  That is clearly erroneous, or she wasn’t attending the same meeting that I was a part of,”said Tate.  

“We produced significant bills of his abode.  We presented his drivers license which shows the 24 E. Broughton Street address, and we produced his W-2’s which show his employment and address.”

“Joyner was a sworn witness under oath that there was an apartment at 24 E. that his wife stays there, his children stay there.  The fact that the tax assessors are not aware that it’s there is not my responsibility,” Tate added.  

One of Tate’s primary pieces of evidence appears to be Joyner’s personal, federal income tax returns for 2009 and 2010, which Tate identifies as ‘1040’s’ - which Tate says were presented as evidence of his residence at the hearing.  He files ‘Married Filing Separately,’ status, according to Tate.  

Reese’s decision does not list the 1040’s as a document Joyner presented, or address the documents in her decision.  But Tate claims that Reese’s assistant called and asked for additional copies of the returns. “She couldn’t find them. The statute speaks to ‘where do you file your income tax returns,’” according to Tate.    

He also questions Reese’s ability to make evidentiary decisions.  “She has no legal experience; hasn’t been to law school. Someone like that has about as much business making this determination as a rattlesnake wearing a garter belt,” he said.

“The touchstone of the law is reasonability.  And, there is a mechanism that allows a judge to make a judgment that is well-reasoned.  I’m confident that we’ll have a fair hearing and fair response.  And I look forward to prevailing. I think it (Reese’s decision) was quite predictable.”

As to Joyner’s last minute change in the address of his voter registration record, “There’s nothing illegal about trying to qualify to run for office,” is Tate’s response.   

“I don’t think that what has happened to Ruel is unfair. It’s a process. It’s the political process and it is fair.  I believe the result is incorrect,” summarized Tate.

On Joyner’s Facebook page late Friday afternoon, after receiving Reese’ decision, Joyner told supporters that he intends to appeal her decision. He has 10 days to mount a challenge.

Reached at his home Friday night, Johnson said that no matter who was on the ballot, “My job is to make my case to the voters…that District 1 is far better off than when I took office, and to ask for their support. I intend to win,” he said.

Clerk of Council Reese’s complete opinion is here.

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