Home is where your heart is. But is that enough to decide where you actually live?
When given the chance to decide that, Lima council took an end-around last week. Essentially, it decided that home is where the city’s law director says home is. But even that’s only when a simple majority of council wants to know.
Where a council member actually lives comes up occasionally. This time around, it’s involving councilor Jamie Dixon. A few months ago former council member Ray Magnus brought forth alleged evidence he said he gathered over three weeks of following Dixon, showing the newly married Dixon spent a portion of his time at his wife’s residence outside the 5th Ward. Dixon, however, asserted his main residence was his parent’s home.
In that instance, Law Director Tony Geiger concluded, “Dixon has properly established his residency within the 5th Ward as a matter of election law.”
A similar matter came up in 2009 when Magnus himself was the focus of questions whether he lived in his ward or elsewhere. In that case, too, it was decided he fit the legal definition of living in the ward.
We support council’s decision to only have Geiger look into residency when a simple majority wants him to do it. Individual residents or councilors shouldn’t be using the city’s law director as a personal attack dog, tearing into someone’s credibility.
We do wish the definitions of residency were written out a little better. The ordinance passed this week specifically mentioned Ohio Revised Code Title 35, Ohio’s law on becoming an eligible registered voter. Its determining factor is this:
“That place shall be considered the residence of a person in which the person’s habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention of returning.”
Lima does require you to plan on returning to that mythical place at least six months before the nominating petitions can be filed. It also expects you to remain an eligible voter within your ward, lest you lose your ability to serve on council.
The interesting thing about this definition is that it focuses so much on a person’s intention. Intentions can be hard to read. We don’t envy the law director, having to decide whether continuing to list someplace as your home address, accepting mail there or continuing to pay bills there actually means you intend to live there.
We wish council had drafted a more specific list of things it thought proved your intention to return someplace. Does paying for electricity or water prove it? Does delivering your bank statements there prove it? It’s an interesting thought experiment, what actually proves you live somewhere.
It’s an imperfect science. One advantage for Lima’s voters, though, is the law director is an elected official. Those voters get to decide who’s making the decision. It’s not a political appointee by the mayor, by council or by anyone else. It’s someone accountable to all the residents of the city.
That’s what we’re left with, an imperfect solution to an occasional problem.