Judge declares Tillman a qualified candidate

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 10, 2013 

A judge ruled Tuesday that Al Tillman will remain a Macon-Bibb County commission candidate in District 9.

Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Boswell signed the order drafted by a Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections attorney.

The decision upholds a 4-0 Board of Elections vote, which found that Tillman does live in a rented District 9 apartment, close to a District 8 home his family still lives in.

Macon Councilman Henry Gibson challenged Tillman’s residency and then appealed after the elections board ruled against him last month.

“Gibson appears to place great weight on the fact that Tillman no longer shares the same residence as his wife and family,” Boswell’s order reads. “This argument has no basis in the law and, in fact, is contradictory to established statutory and case law.”

Boswell said Gibson lost his appeal because “Gibson has failed to identify any error in the procedures employed by the Board or the substantive decision made by the Board resulting in a deprivation of any substantial right belonging to Gibson.”

Gibson is not running for election in the new consolidated government. However, Gibson is backing James Timley, the current president of the Macon City Council and the only other candidate vying for the District 9 post.

A letter drafted by the Board of Elections attorney, William H. Noland, claimed Gibson’s challenge “appears to be a moral objection rather than a legal one.”

Gibson said last week that Tillman had been neglecting his family for politics. After a hastily called news conference Tuesday, Tillman said, “I’ve abandoned you all,” then swept up wife Danette and children Aidan and Cindora into a hug.

Tillman said he had looked up to Timley and Gibson.

“Now, I don’t know. Who do we look up to?” Tillman said. “Because if this is (how) our leaders are acting, we need new leadership to look up to.”

Tillman said Tuesday that his District 8 house has been for sale for about two months. Gibson said in a statement released through his attorney, Charles E. Cox, that Gibson did not believe Tillman’s apartment across Bloomfield Road is a legitimate residence.

“The Board of Elections and the Court have concluded that Mr. Tillman can run for the seat in District 9, and now the decision is up to the voters,” Gibson said.

Noland told The Telegraph that Gibson could try to appeal through the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court, but there might not be enough time before the election.

“Even if they appeal, the election’s going to go forward with Mr. Tillman on the ballot,” Noland said.

Cox argued last week that the judge should consider overturning the Board of Elections decision outright, disqualifying Tillman as a candidate. In a legal filing Monday, however, Cox urged the judge to order the Board of Elections to rehear the residency case by Friday. He said the elections board never inquired whether Tillman had a business, where it was based or whether it was licensed.

“The issue of the residence of Mr. Tillman’s family should be considered by the Board of Elections on remand,” Cox wrote in a proposed order.

Cox faulted the Board of Elections for focusing on whether Tillman had claimed a homestead exemption on his house about six months before Tillman rented the apartment. But it was Gibson himself who focused on the homestead exemption during the Board of Elections hearing.

In that hearing, Gibson also raised questions about other issues that didn’t address Tillman’s residency, such as why Tillman had not filed financial disclosure forms or when Tillman served in the Georgia National Guard.

Noland wrote in a letter to Boswell that “the Board of Elections followed the law, that it provided a fair hearing, and that it reached the only possible legally correct result given the evidence before it. All of Mr. Gibson’s arguments to the contrary are either unsupported by the record or contradicted by the applicable law.”

The election is Sept. 17, but early voting continues through Friday.

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