CARBONDALE — Voters will learn next week whether a candidate for mayor will be eligible to run in the spring election, and questions about alleged political motivations for attempting to remove him from the ballot are simmering under the surface.
At a hearing that veered between tedium and outbursts of laughter from the packed crowd of onlookers, the city’s Municipal Officers Electoral Board heard more than two hours of arguments and testimony Monday regarding whether businessman John “Mike” Henry satisfies the residency requirement to run for mayor of Carbondale in the April 2015 election.
Statute requires that candidates for municipal office reside in the city for a year prior to the election, and the Electoral Board — made up of acting Mayor Don Monty, City Clerk Jennifer Sorrell and Councilwoman Corene McDaniel — plans to review the evidence this week and present its ruling on Henry’s candidacy Monday, Dec. 15.
Darrell Dunham, the Carbondale attorney who last week filed the objection to Henry’s candidacy, argued during the hearing that as of April 7, 2014 — the one-year mark prior to the coming election — evidence supports the notion that Henry remained a permanent resident of his home at 1500 McCowen Lane in Carterville.
To support his claim, Dunham pointed to Henry remaining a registered voter in Williamson County as of the date last April, as well as Henry’s driver’s license issued through the Secretary of State showing his Carterville address until he changed it this fall.
Also, Dunham showed that even though Henry and his wife applied for an homeowner tax exemption on their new Carbondale home in October, they still had such an exemption on their Carterville home as of April of this year and did not terminate that until last month.
Henry, who was represented by Sarah Taylor of Barrett, Twomey, Broom, Hughes and Hoke, said in testimony that he and his wife moved to their current home at 1210 W. Hill Ave. in Carbondale in September 2013, removing all of their furniture from their former home and leasing the house to a local doctor after it failed to sell. They still own the Carterville house.
They immediately began making improvements to their Carbondale home, including the addition of a $3,000 storage shed and vinyl and chain-link fence, Henry said. They also had all of their mail forwarded to the address and transferred their utility bills to it. Henry’s next-door neighbors in Carbondale, Jim and Gwen LeBeau, also testified that the Henrys had been permanent residents of the home since September 2013.
Henry said his failure to update his address on his driver’s license — a step his wife did take for her own license and voter registration in late 2013 — was an oversight on his part, and he didn’t change his voter registration until the run-up to the November midterm elections. He said he knew the law required him to end the homeowner tax exemption on his Carterville home by the end of this year, which he did late last month. He said he will not be able to claim the exemption on two properties at the same time and never had any intention of doing so.
Speaking to the Times Tuesday, Henry said he believed the objection to his residency was politically motivated.
“The opposition is afraid of my candidacy,” said Henry, who has owned and operated Henry Printing in Carbondale since 1972. “They are trying to steal this election and get rid of any opposition.”
Dunham said Monday that his objection, which he filed with fellow objector and SIU anthropology professor Andrew Balkansky, a friend of Adams, was the work of private citizens and intended only to vet Henry and make sure that he is a legal candidate for mayor. Dunham disassociated his effort from Henry’s opponent in next year’s election, Councilwoman Jane Adams.
“We’ve been in touch from time to time, but I have not talked to Jane about this objection,” Dunham said. “This was my decision. I am not anybody’s puppet.”
However, a document obtained by the Times shows Dunham acting as legal representation for Adams in March of this year on an unrelated matter. Speaking on Tuesday, Dunham said that document shows the only representation he has ever given to Adams, but he said he has come to respect her over the past couple of years.
Dunham, who separately serves as county chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said he is better acquainted with Adams’ husband, D. Gorton, whom he appointed as a Republican precinct committeeman earlier this year.
Dunham, who stresses that the Republican Party is not associated with Carbondale’s municipal election in any way, said he never had any direct conversations about the objection to Henry’s candidacy with either Adams or Gorton. He said his investigation of the residency issue was independent of Gorton’s, who first brought up the issue to the Times well before Dunham’s objection was filed.
Gorton said Tuesday that questions about Henry’s residency status have been circulating in town for weeks and that more people are concerned with it than just he and Dunham, whom Gorton also said he had not communicated with on the issue.
Gorton said Henry confronted him with allegations of “dirty tricks” last week, but Gorton said Dunham’s objection is not an effort orchestrated by Adams’ campaign, and people around town remain concerned about the status of Henry’s residency.
“It looks like he parachuted in to run for mayor,” Gorton said.
Henry said Monday he had no intention of running for mayor when he moved to Carbondale. Adams, a retired SIU anthropology professor who first was elected to the City Council in 2011, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, although she issued her own statement Monday afternoon.
“I look forward a resolution of the challenge to Mike Henry’s legal qualifications to run for mayor of Carbondale,” Adams wrote. “Carbondale voters need a choice, and if it turns out that Mr. Henry does not meet the residency requirements it will be a disappointment not only to me but I expect to most Carbondale voters. I trust that the Carbondale Electoral Board will make a careful decision based on the legal merits of the challenge.”