Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner leads his first county commission meeting Jan. 2. Questions are now being raised about whether he actually lives in the county, which would affect his eligibility to hold public office.
JONESBORO Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner’s residency is riddled with questions that include who has the responsibility to investigate the residency of local officials.
At issue is whether Turner, who once lived in Henry County, still lives in that county or if he moved to Clayton County and meets residency requirements to hold his current office.
Clayton County NAACP President Synamon Baldwin told local NAACP members in an email that media reports questioning Turner’s residency prompted her and other chapter leaders to approach Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office to seek an investigation on the matter.
“Representatives of the NAACP met with Chris Harvey, who is the chief investigator of the State Elections Division,” Baldwin wrote in the email. “He informed us that he would take a look at the situation and determine what steps to take.”
But an official with the Secretary of State’s office said these types of media challenges are handled by local election registrars. They said they could not confirm whether the NAACP’s request for an investigation had been turned over to Clayton County Elections and Registration Director Annie Bright.
In Turner’s case, the answer to every question raises new questions. He owns two homes in Henry County, but rents an apartment in Riverdale that he used as his address to vote and hold public office. At one point, he also used an address in Morrow to register to vote.
Turner said the questions now being raised about his residency are “a personal attack,” and he denied he was still a Henry County resident.
“I am a legal resident of Clayton County and have been for quite some time,” he said.
He said he moved to the county in December 2010.
Turner added that he has not been contacted by officials from either the Secretary of State’s Office or the Clayton County Elections and Registration Office about his residency.
He has also filed for divorce from his wife, Darlene, on Sept. 23, 2011, but it has not been finalized. Divorce paperwork lists the reason they are seeking a divorce is that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and that they couldn’t continue living together.
He listed a Henry County address in the divorce case filings. The divorce paperwork shows Turner and his wife owned two pieces of property in Henry County. His wife and their sons still live in Henry County.
He filed a notice of intent to run for Clayton County sheriff in April 2011.
In September 2011, he filed for bankruptcy in Federal Court. Records show he used a Riverdale apartment address in his bankruptcy filing.
However, the paperwork for his divorce shows a Henry County address for him, also in September 2011.
On Friday, Turner said he would not discuss personal matters.
A few days after he filed to run for sheriff’s he switched to a campaign for commission chairman because he had not lived in the county long enough to run for the law enforcement office.
A flurry of E-mails back and forth between Baldwin and a small number of county residents shows the local NAACP chapter’s request to Kemp’s office has stirred up some controversy.
Pamela Noah, a Rex resident and Turner supporter, wrote an email to Baldwin stating, “These unfounded allegations about Chairman Jeff Turner have already been addressed. There is no smoking gun! The residents and voters are tired of the [expletive] and have made their choices known. Frankly, the well is dry and there is very little left to fight over.”
In an email to chapter members, Baldwin said, “The venomous emails and push back we received from persons associated with the County Chairman would be hilarious if it were not such a serious issue. The Branch will follow all appropriate procedures and protocols as we move forward on the request submitted to the Secretary of State.
“We will not be intimidated by certain elected and appointed officials, their water carriers or anyone who seeks to discredit the Branch.”
As far as state law is concerned on the matter, Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 21-2-217 appears to leave the issue up to interpretation by local election officials.
What may appear to be cut and dry to one group may not be so clear to another group, creating a debate between what constitutes a person’s domicile.
In 2008, Clayton County police investigated the residency of former school board member Norreese Haynes after he was arrested at an apartment he rented in Marietta.
The police investigation determined Haynes did not live at the residence he used to run for his school board seat. The school board kicked Haynes out of office based on the investigation’s findings and a Clayton County Superior Court judge later upheld his removal.
However, the Secretary of State’s office conducted its own investigation of Haynes’ residency, along with the residencies of every other board member, and determined he lived at the address he used to run for office.
As far as what determines a person’s residency, state law outlines 16 rules governing how an elected official’s residence is determined. Some of those rules include:
• “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 therefrom.”
• “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.”
• “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.”
• “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.”
• “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.”
• “The mere intention to acquire a new residence, without the fact of removal, shall avail nothing; neither shall the fact of removal without the intention.”
• “The specific address in the county or municipality in which a person has declared a homestead exemption, if a homestead exemption has been claimed, shall be deemed the person’s residence address.”
• “For voter registration purposes, the board of registrars and, for candidacy residency purposes, the Secretary of State, election superintendent, or hearing officer may consider evidence of where the person receives significant mail such as personal bills and any other evidence that indicates where the person resides.”
— Senior Reporter Kathy Jefcoats contributed to this report.