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News Analysis: The Black and White of Ruel Joyner’s Residency

News Analysis: The Black and White of Ruel Joyner’s Residency

By Lou Phelps
SBJ Staff


Oct 3, 2011 – For many downtown Savannah business owners, the candidacy of George Ruel Joyner Jr. for the District 1 Alderman’s seat is a personal focus in the upcoming City of Savannah municipal elections on November 8.  Joyner is seeking to defeat incumbent Alderman Van Johnson whose employer is Chatham County. Johnson is the Human Resources Director for the County, and has been a member of the Savannah City Council since 2003.

Joyner owns 24e, an upscale and creative Broughton Street furniture store in a building owned by his parents George and Sara Joyner, Sr. at 24 E. Broughton Street, above which Ruel states that he maintains an apartment.

Ruel Joyner, as he is known, is also the current president of the Downtown Business Association, a group of Savannah retailers and tourism business owners who formed professional business group several years ago for networking opportunities, but also because they felt their specific needs were not being met by the City of Savannah.  They wanted a unified voice, and Joyner is the candidate of choice for many of the DBA’s members.

But Joyner’s residency has been questioned by a supporter of Johnson’s, and a hearing was held last Thursday, Sept 29, before Savannah Clerk of Council Dianne Reese, who is also the Superintendent of Municipal Elections. After hearing evidence, Reese told Joyner that she would announce a decision within 7 to 10 days.  Joyner can then appeal her decision if it goes against him in County Superior Court.

The challenge was filed by Kenneth Dunham, a resident of Savannah’s Westside, who claims that Joyner is not a city resident.

Joyner’s position is that Georgia Election Code requires six month residency prior to qualifying to run, and does not use the term a “primary residence,” and he qualifies. The Georgia Code makes clear that challenges should only be filed within two weeks after the close of the date for qualifying for an upcoming election. (see the Code below.)

But the Code states that to meet the residency requirement, the address must be the individual’s “permanent place of abode” and “in which such person's habitation is fixed, without any present intention of removing there from.”

Joyner is married with two children, and owns an expensive home at 207 Barley Rd. on Oatland Island, a home he purchased in 1999 after growing up on Tybee Island where his parents still reside. Oatland Island is not in the City limits of Savannah, much less in District 1.

Joyner’s daughter currently attends Islands Elementary School on Whitmarsh Island, which is the home school for Oatland Island residents.

Within the past 12 months, in order to qualify as a candidate in District 1, Joyner changed his personal residency to 24 E. Broughton Street.  His driver’s license also lists 24 E. Broughton St. a his home address.  In an interview last week with the Savannah Business Journal, Joyner acknowledged that he had made the residency switch within the past 12 months.  To run for office, an individual must have ‘resided’ at their address for a minimum of six months.

And he changed his voter registration address as well, but not from his Barley Rd. address.  Apparently, Joyner has been voting for years using the address of his childhood home at his parent’s address at 6 Center Terrace on Tybee Island.  Within the past 12 months, he registered to vote at a new address - 24 E. Broughton St.

Former Tybee Island residents who primarily live elsewhere but continue to vote there is a practice that irritates many Tybee politicians, adding to the issues that Reese must review.

According to Chatham County election laws, however, a person who owns multiple properties can elect the one to designate as their ‘residence’ for the purpose of running for office.  But Joyner apparently rents the apartment from his parents – he does not own.

Joyner states that before taking out his papers to run for office, he met with Russell Bridges, Chatham County Elections Supervisor to confirm that he had the right to run in District 1, based on the changes in residency he had made.  But the meeting, on its face, indicates to many that he realized his residency could be called into question.

Joyner purchased his Oatland Island home in 1999, valued at the time at $113,500.  In 2008, he made approximately $100,000 in improvements, and with the increase in the value of the lot, is now valued at a total of $426,000 by the Chatham County Board of Assessors. 

And Joyner maintains that there are other members of the current City Council who have multiple addresses and did the same thing he has done, including Edna Jackson who changed her residency to run back in 2002.  

Johnson and Joyner are not the only candidates for the District 1 seat.  Tonia Miller, a resident at 408 Cleland St. in Savannah in the Belmar Terrace Subdivision, is also running, a former teacher at Shuman Middle School and the owner of Success, Inc,, a non-profit tutoring company she founded.

After the hearing, Joyner posted on his Facebook page: “We had our hearing. My paper work is in order and in full. I have legitimate residency in the first district of Savannah Ga. It is now up to the Court Clerk. She will notify me within 7 to 10 days. Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. I even spoke with Mr. Dunham after the hearing and am looking forward to working with him to make the West Side of Savannah better. The people deserve it.”

If Reese determines that Joyner has met the letter of the law, the voters will have to determine if he meets its spirit.

Georgia Election Code


The Georgia laws that Reese must adher to are covered in Subsection 21-2-6 of the Georgia Election Code which follows:

§ 21-2-6.  Qualifications of candidates for county and municipal office; determination of qualifications

(a) Every candidate for county office who is certified by the county executive committee of a political party or who files a notice of candidacy, and every candidate for municipal office who is certified by a municipal executive committee of a political party or who files a notice of candidacy, shall meet the constitutional and statutory qualifications for holding the office being sought.

(b) The superintendent upon his or her own motion may challenge the qualifications of any candidate referred to in subsection (a) of this Code section at any time prior to the election of such candidate. Within two weeks after the deadline for qualifying, any elector who is eligible to vote for any such candidate may challenge the qualifications of the candidate by filing a written complaint with the superintendent giving the reasons why the elector believes the candidate is not qualified to seek and hold the public office for which the candidate is offering. Upon his or her own motion or upon a challenge being filed, the superintendent shall notify the candidate in writing that his or her qualifications are being challenged and the reasons therefor and shall advise the candidate that he or she is setting a hearing on the matter and shall inform the candidate of the date, time, and place of the hearing.

(c) The superintendent shall determine if the candidate is qualified to seek and hold the public office for which such candidate is offering. If the superintendent determines that the candidate is not qualified, the superintendent shall withhold the name of the candidate from the ballot or strike such candidate's name from the ballot if the ballots have been printed. If there is insufficient time to strike the candidate's name or reprint the ballots, a prominent notice shall be placed at each affected polling place advising voters of the disqualification of the candidate and all votes cast for such candidate shall be void and shall not be counted.

(d) In the event that a candidate pays his or her qualifying fee with a check that is subsequently returned for insufficient funds, the superintendent shall automatically find that such candidate has not met the qualifications for holding the office being sought, unless the bank, credit union, or other financial institution returning the check certifies in writing by an officer's or director's oath that the bank, credit union, or financial institution erred in returning the check.

(e) The elector filing the challenge or the candidate challenged shall have the right to appeal the decision of the superintendent by filing a petition in the superior court of the county in which the candidate resides within ten days after the entry of the final decision by the superintendent. The filing of the petition shall not itself stay the decision of the superintendent; however, the reviewing court may order a stay upon appropriate terms for good cause shown. As soon as possible after service of the petition, the superintendent shall transmit the original or a certified copy of the entire record of the proceedings under review to the reviewing court. The review shall be conducted by the court without a jury and shall be confined to the record. The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the superintendent as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions of the superintendent are:

(1) In violation of the Constitution or laws of this state;

(2) In excess of the statutory authority of the superintendent;

(3) Made upon unlawful procedures;

(4) Affected by other error of law;

(5) Clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(6) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion or a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

An aggrieved party may obtain a review of any final judgment of the superior court by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, as provided by law.

HISTORY: Code 1933, § 34-406, enacted by Ga. L. 1980, p. 312, § 2; Ga. L. 1983, p. 884, § 6-3; Ga. L. 1986, p. 32, § 1; Ga. L. 1987, p. 1360, § 2; Ga. L. 1989, p. 900, § 2; Ga. L. 1993, p. 617, § 2; Ga. L. 1998, p. 295, § 1; Ga. L. 2001, p. 230, § 1.

§ 21-2-217.  Rules for determining residence

(a) In determining the residence of a person desiring to register to vote or to qualify to run for elective office, the following rules shall be followed so far as they are applicable:

(1) The residence of any person shall be held to be in that place in which such person's habitation is fixed, without any present intention of removing there from;

(2) A person shall not be considered to have lost such person's residence who leaves such person's home and goes into another state or county or municipality in this state, for temporary purposes only, with the intention of returning, unless such person shall register to vote or perform other acts indicating a desire to change such person's citizenship and residence;

(3) A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any county or municipality of this state into which such person has come for temporary purposes only without the intention of making such county or municipality such person's permanent place of abode;

(4) If a person removes to another state with the intention of making it such person's residence, such person shall be considered to have lost such person's residence in this state;

(4.1) If a person removes to another county or municipality in this state with the intention of making it such person's residence, such person shall be considered to have lost such person's residence in the former county or municipality in this state;

(5) If a person removes to another state with the intention of remaining there an indefinite time and making such state such person's place of residence, such person shall be considered to have lost such person's residence in this state, notwithstanding that such person may intend to return at some indefinite future period;

(6) If a person removes to another county or municipality within this state with the intention of remaining there an indefinite time and making such other county or municipality such person's place of residence, such person shall be considered to have lost such person's residence in the former county or municipality, notwithstanding that such person may intend to return at some indefinite future period;

(7) The residence for voting purposes of a person shall not be required to be the same as the residence for voting purposes of his or her spouse;
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