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Timothy Myers Sr.: Board had right to act on residency

Posted: June 22, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2013 2:00 a.m.

John Landis, director of the 1980 Blues Brothers movie, used the address of iconic Wrigley Field in Chicago — 1060 West Addison Street — to great comic effect.

Film protagonist Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) uses the address for his Illinois driver’s license, which does not fool the savvy state police investigator played by John Candy, who runs down Jake and Elwood at a fleabag hotel in downtown Chicago.

A great follow-up joke occurs when a group of neo-Nazis, led by Henry Gibson, actually arrives at Wrigley Field to hunt down the Blues Brothers.

Obviously, neo-Nazis would not even possess basic knowledge of baseball, that most American of sports.

So the question that stood before the Saugus Union School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday revolved around whether now-ousted board member Stephen Winkler actually resided within the boundaries of the Saugus Union School District.

If not, the educational code would seem to oblige the majority of the board to declare the seat vacant and then take steps to either appoint a replacement or hold a special election.

Many do not realize the American uniqueness of residency requirements to hold public office. In the UK, for example, law and custom does not require members of Parliament to reside in the districts they represent.

Winston Churchill famously represented a constituency in Scotland during his long years in Parliament.

Why the American difference?

One can trace the hostility to nonresident rulers back to 1066, after the Norman invasion of England.

Absentee conquerors who spent nearly all their time in France ruled ineptly or not at all, causing great pain and harm to the population.

Fast forward to the years before the American Revolution and one would find the heavy hand of appointed royal governors exercised from afar.

It just makes sense that a representative should hold a residential stake in the area he or she represents.

But how does one determine residency?

Factually, the concept exists on a continuum, especially in our highly mobile society.

On one end, one finds the rare homeowner with one residence, children enrolled and attending local schools, voter registration, a driver’s license, and other legal documents attached to that address, and actually pursuing employment within the confines of the district.

In the middle, things quickly get confusing: What if an elected official owns more than one home? What if that person moves his or her family to another jurisdiction but maintains the old residence?

What if the elected official’s employment absents him or her from the jurisdiction for long periods of time?

The endless combinations quickly spiral out of control, making analysis difficult.

But on the other side (and in the judgment of the other Saugus Union district members, actually teetering off the continuum) one finds Mr. Winkler, who at various times claimed two different addresses within the district while serving on the board, and who listed the Madison leasing office address on campaign documents because he "squatted" in vacant condos and apartments during that time period.

Add to that surveillance by a private investigator that showed him spending all of his time at a residence in Sylmar, and that seemed to seal the deal.

A second tradition in American law and custom: Elected bodies possess the right, and perhaps the obligation, to make determinations concerning the qualification of people for membership.

One sees this in the U.S. Constitution, where the House of Representatives and Senate clearly possess authority to deny membership to an elected representative or senator based upon their own findings.

Therefore, the Saugus Union board certainly possessed the right to make a factual determination concerning Mr. Winkler’s residency, which it did, concluding that he did not currently reside in the district.

Recognizing the separation of powers, a judge could overturn the decision if he or she found it arbitrary and capricious and not based in fact.

Mr. Winkler has said he will not pursue that option (for now).

But will the residency issue start a series of dominoes falling in the Santa Clarita Valley?

Timothy Myers Sr. is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.


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